Master producer & guitarist Steve Dawson brought Big Dave McLean to his new studio in Nashville and began recording immediately, getting the most spontaneous sound possible with a team of veteran players. The concept works spectacularly. Big Dave opens with John Brim’s “Tough Times” from the golden age of Chicago Blues. McLean’s new arrangement has him & Dawson on baritone and National guitars, with Colin Linden’s rhythm section, John Dymond and Gary Craig along with B3 player Kevin McKendree, whose solos are featured in this performance. A bit of autobiography is up next as Big Dave reprises a song from his first album,“I Best Choose To Sing The Blues”. It’s a delightful tale of how his father came to accept Dave’s chosen career as a blues singer. Colin Linden provides a wonderful slide solo. Tampa Red’s little known “Dead Cat on the Line” is a delightful performance, with Big Dave on his National, Dawson on banjo and vocals and Colin James on mandolin. Big Dave had rather more reason to sing the blues than before as his brother and mother had just passed away. “The Fallen” was written for his brother and it’s much more contemporary in style but stunningly effective. He also wrote “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even”, an electric grinder that supplies some advice that only Big Dave could give.
One of the more interesting choices here is Tom Waits’ “Mr. Siegal”, Big Dave’s gruff vocals are a perfect match for these lyrics. The other magnum opus here was written for his mother, who used to sing “Amazing Grace” to him as a child. “Shades of Grace” shares those memories with lovely harmony vocals from The McCrary Sisters, whose own album you should seek out. It’s a most moving tribute. The sisters stick around for another McLean original, “Oh, Mr. Charlie, Oh”. It’s a remarkable slow gospel blues about fighting the devil, with a soaring harmonica solo from Big Dave. That theme also concludes the disc as Big Dave and his National tackle Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman”. The performance is a measure of Big Dave’s importance to our community that such a grouping of our best players turns out for a new Big Dave album. Faded but not gone indeed!