For his latest album, “Better The Devil You Know,” Big Dave McLean journeyedto our fair city, specifically to Steve Dawson’s Henhouse Studio, for a cool thirteen-track affair that features several of Dave’s originals and zesty covers that capture his inimitable style as a purveyor of the style of the classic pre-WWII masters.
Big Dave is on harp, acoustic guitar, and vocals, and a housefull of fine players round out the backing corps. Steve is on most all other things stringed, Kevin McKendree is on keys, Gary Craig on drums, Jon Dymond on bass, and special guests Fats Kaplin on fiddle, and sisters Ann and Regina McCrary on harmony vocals.
The set begins with one of Dave’s originals regarding a “Life On The Road” as a bluesman, full of “late-night shows” and searching for “a good cup of Joe,” and it features honky-tonkin’ piano from Kevin. Ann and Regina kick off the traditional country-blues of “You’ll Need Somebody On Your Bond,” with Dave on harp and Fats sawing away on the fiddle. Another of Dave’s originals follows a similar country-blues path, as Dave and his harp tell the story of a great lover, “I Need You like a glove needs a hand.”
Dave brings out some sweet gospel-themed cuts on this set, all done in his storyteller’s style. There’s the steel guitar-driven cover of Jonathan Millsap’s “Old Time Religion,” a bouncy “Swingin’ On Heaven’s Gate,” with Fats on the mandolin, and a song that seeks the “day there’s an end to war,” aptly-titled “Talk About A Revelation.”
Our favorite closed the set. Jack White owns Third Man Records here in town, and he also has a vintage recording booththere. The traditional “Pet Rabbit,” with all its double-entendres’ features Dave accompanied only by his guitar. This one has all the ticks and pops one would associate with a vintage 78 RPM!
Big Dave McLean continues in the vein of his last album, “Faded But Not Gone,” with “Better The Devil You Know.” It affords him the opportunity to meld Delta blues, Chicago blues, and country-styled gospel on a set that has something for everyone! Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.