Country music has been called “the light-skinned cousin of the blues,” and this description goes all the way back to its founding father, Jimmie Rodgers. We wouldn’t have “I’m Ready” or “Sweet Home Chicago” if we didn’t also have “Waiting for a Train” or “Frankie and Johnny”. This is the musical spirit that Canada’s Big Dave McLean captures with near-perfect clarity on his latest album, Faded But Not Gone. His producer and co-artist, fellow Canadian Steve Dawson, was nominated last year for a Blues Blast Music Award: Acoustic CD of the Year. Dawson also played at the 2014 BBMA’s in Champaign, Illinois. Together, he and McLean give us a fascinating glimpse into blues history, combined with postmodern tastes on twelve songs (one public domain tune, one arrangement of “Amazing Grace”, four other originals, and six covers). With a hoary, ragged voice and a raw aspect to his performance, Big Dave shows that sometimes, the best blues are sung with force, not fancy flourishes.
With McLean on vocals and guitar are the aforementioned Steve Dawson (on vocals and several types of guitars, regular and pump organ, and banjo), bassist John Dymond, drummer Gary Craig, Kevin McKendree on organ and piano, Colin Linden on slide guitar, Colin James on mandolin, and background vocalists Ann and Regina McCrary. The following original songs display the best combination of old-time country blues a la Jimmie Rodgers and modern blues:
Track 01: “Tough Times” – From the public domain comes this slow-burning gem, featuring Big Dave on baritone guitar and Steve Dawson on national steel guitar. Bask in its smoldering intro as it reverberates with melancholy grit. As for the best lyrical part, McLean shouts in a staccato burst: “I ain’t got no job, people, and there just ain’t nothing in my house to eat!” It’s reminiscent of the scene in the movie Network where the main character yells, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Track 06: “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” – Are these wise words or not? Our narrator certainly thinks so: “Don’t get mad; get even. Solid advice I believe in, and if for no other reason, you’ll know that things will be coming your way.” Fortunately, in this song, the best revenge is positive thinking. Kevin McKendree plays killer barroom piano.
Track 11: “Oh, Mr. Charlie, Oh” – Whom could the subject of this song be? The old-fashioned vibe of this creepy ballad suggests a ruthless plantation owner, the leader of a certain racist faction (“Hang me from the highest tree, oh, Mr. Charlie, oh,”) or perhaps our greatest adversary: “I ain’t going to deal with the Devil no more.” Steve Dawson plays three types of guitar: National steel, pedal steel, and electric. This masterpiece will haunt listeners.
Big Dave McLean clearly proves that country blues is Faded, but Not Gone!