The death of a loved one leaves most people trying to figure out how to put the pieces back together and move forward. For Canadian blues musician Big Dave McLean, he turned to the sanctity of the blues to help him move forward after his mother and brother died. The result is his label debut for Black Hen Music, “Faded but Not Gone.”
[Big Dave McLean] The album opens up with a somber guitar intro before transitioning into the thick shuffle of “Tough Times.” McLean’s voice is gravelly and authoritative and sets the tone for the pissed-off feel of the song. His slide playing is forefront and his mastery of the guitar is evident.
The sessions for the song were conducted in Nashville with producer Steve Dawson, who wanted to push McLean outside his comfort zone by having him work in a new environment. The Nashville sound certainly had an influence on the album, as McLean adopted a country blues style that is a departure from his usual Chicago and Delta blues leanings. “Dead Cat On The Line,” a Tampa Red song, picks along with a front porch feel that is amplified by the inclusion of mandolin from Colin James.
McLean also looked to some of the contemporary artists in the folk-country scene for inspiration, and came away with covers of “One More Day” by the Wood Brothers and “Devil’s In The Jukebox” by Ray LaMontagne. McLean slows down the tempo slightly on “One More Day” compared to the original, but the addition of slide guitar and piano to the composition adds more weight to the song. McLean’s “Devil’s In the Jukebox” is a pretty standard cover, but the organ solo provided by Kevin McKendree is a highlight.
The two best pieces on the album are, fittingly, odes to the family members McLean lost before recording the album. The first one is the atmospheric “The Fallen,” a song for McLean’s brother. The song was recorded only a week after his passing and the poignancy is evident in McLean’s somber singing and the emotional pedal steel solo by producer Steve Dawson. McLean memorializes his mother in the lovely “Shades of Grace.” With backup singers and acoustic slide guitar, he runs through a rendition of “Amazing Grace” while telling the story of how his mother used to sing the hymn to him as a child.
The album does not do much to push the limits of blues music, but McLean was looking for solace in this record not innovation. “Faded but not Gone” is a snapshot of a man at an emotional crossroads and the album succeeds in perfectly portraying McLean’s journey on his road to healing.