Big Dave McLean recorded his last album, 2015's 'Faded But Not Gone' at Steve Dawson's Nashville-based Henhouse Studio, and the project earned him a Juno nomination. For his latest release, the veteran Canadian musician ventured back to Tennessee, and 'Better The Devil You Know' likewise bears Dawson's signature care and instrumental richness.
"I'm living out the dream/ So it would seem," McLean sings on the easy-rolling 'Life on the Road,' his rough-and-ready tenor hinting that carefree appearances can be deceiving. The breezy 'I Need You' gives way to the relentless stomp of 'Where the Music Comes From.' Where he invokes Howlin' Wolf's growl on an ode to Mississippi. McLean's love of Muddy Waters surfaces on covers of 'You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had' and 'Deep Down in Florida,' each pierced with stinging, evocative guitar solos. The traditional 'Pet Rabbit' was recorded in Jack White's recording booth at Third Man Records, giving it a burnished, just-rediscovered air.
As the albums title suggests, matters of faith emerge as a motif across several songs. 'You're Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond' is cast as a spirited country gospel, roused by McLean's harmonica and the backing vocals of Ann and Regina McCrary. These same harmonies, combined with McLean's coagulated snarl, underscore the dread in Parker Millsap's 'Old Time Religion' and Dawson's 'The Side of the Road.'
McLean speaks directly to modern times on 'Talk About a Revelation,' written in the aftermath of last year's Paris attacks. "We should learn from our past mistakes," he implores over reverberating strings-a statement that remains sadly relevant. A first-rate set of songs and performance, Dave McLean's "Better The Devil You Know" is worth getting acquainted with.