As the title wryly acknowledges, Big Dave McLean, a citizen of Winnipeg, has played on the Canadian roots scene for a long time. His chosen instrument is (usually) acoustic guitar and his genre choice the blues and related. Not being Canadian, I am not as familiar with him as I could be. I can report, however, that Faded But Not Gone attests to a talent greater than the usual.
McLean has the wisdom or good fortune to have Steve Dawson in the producer's chair. Besides being a notable guitarist and a deeply informed roots-music maven, Dawson knows his way around a studio. (He is also head of Black Hen, for which this is McLean's first album.) Faded boasts a tough, bright sound of a sort that entrances the ear, the arrangements working outward from McLean's guitar (sometimes National steel) to embrace a small, tight band prominently including Dawson on various guitars and Colin Linden on slide and mandolin. The arrangements eschew the cliches of modern blues production, nodding toward deeper traditions than ordinarily encountered these days while at the same time fashioning an innovative approach.
The songs, one good one after another, are a mix of McLean's impressive originals, as often blues-inflected as straight-ahead blues, and covers from the likes of Tampa Red (an inspired reworking of "Dead Cat on the Line"), Tom Waits ("Mr. Siegal"), Ray LaMontagne ("Devil's in the Jukebox") and more. Among the most moving are two from-the-heart numbers, "The Fallen" and "Shades of Grace," written with a stoic restraint that renders them even more hard-hitting. " The original "Oh Mr. Charlie Oh" has the resonance of a Lead Belly ballad, though it is not slavishly imitative of one.
Unlike too many contemporary white blues performers, McLean is singing the song, not beating it to death. Faded manages to restore the blues to something like its original color. – Jerome Clark