Those you love may fade away but they live on in memory.
That’s how Winnipeg blues great Big Dave McLean sees it on his new album Faded But Not Gone. It’s his first disc for Steve Dawson’s Black Hen label — the first disc recorded in Dawson’s new Nashville studio — marking McLean’s first visit to the famed “music city.”
It’s also one of McLean’s most personal projects ever. Separate songs were written for his late father and mother, and the atmospheric tune Fallen is dedicated to a brother who had died just weeks before the sessions.
“When I get inspired to write I want to have something to say,” McLean says. “I didn’t want it to be another cliché, ‘can’t get the truck started, woke up this morning,’ kind of thing. Well, we all did pal, not that I’m knocking those songs, but they’ve been done to death.”
The album happened over a week of sessions that caught some of McLean’s finest moments with a great support band, including Dawson’s backing guitars or banjo and a nice mix of material, as well as covers of Thomas Dorsey, Ray Lamontagne, The Wood Brothers and Tom Waits.
Nothing has faded about McLean’s music. In fact, the album’s sonic warmth only adds greater colour as the bluesman brings to the fore his gritty vocals, taste for delta and country blues and early Chicago styles.
“I had such a good time working with these incredible players,” McLean says. “We were trying to not do another standard bar-room blues album, to mix it up a little more. I wasn’t totally familiar with the covers until Steve suggested them, but this old dog is still learning every day.”
McLean uses two vintage guitars on the CD. His Gibson acoustic will help him re-create the songs on the Black Hen Road Show which visits The Artery Friday (also with Dawson and Jim Byrnes).
McLean admits he usually writes in a more formal blues framework, but with this attempt to think outside the box, his original songs came off in a looser vein. The backing band makes it quite upbeat in parts, but there are moody moments. Colin Linden and Colin James both make guest appearances and sisters Ann and Regina McCrary add backing vocals as well.
Fans will find this a welcome addition to McLean’s work. At 61, the JUNO winner is one of Canada’s most revered bluesmen and an influence on many younger names, just as McLean himself absorbed lessons from mentors like John Hammond and Muddy Waters. McLean opened for Waters in the late 1970s and early 1980s and wrote a song for the blues giant, Muddy Waters For President.