As our first bluesman made a member of the Order of Canada, Big Dave McLean’s new album was highly anticipated. It turns out that it is the first one devoted almost entirely to his own songs. His versions of other people’s songs have always been a treat but we now have this new facet of his career. He wants us to know that it’s not a straight-ahead blues album, although truth be told, it’s not that much different from his earlier ones. Part of the reason for this is that multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson is the producer once again. Big Dave has a horn section this time and it’s used to good effect on the rocking opener “Songs of the Blues”, where Big Dave answers the question of why he loves the blues. A blast of rage at a bully is something different for the usually easy-going Big Dave but that bully gets an earful in “Don’t Lay That Stuff on Me”, driven along by Dawson’s electric slide. A slow blues called “Backwards Fool” sees Big Dave on harmonica in a song about a particularly hapless fellow, with solos from banjo, trumpet & sax. “All Day Party” is a stop time jump blues opus with a wailing horn section. There are a couple of covers and JB Lenoir’s “Voodoo Music” is one of them – a great groove, with Dawson on tremolo guitar. “Baby (You’re Driving Me Crazy)” has Big Dave on lead cigar box guitar on an attractive horn-less uptempo rocker. He always does a Muddy Waters song and this time it’s an atmospheric “Just to be with You” and a fine version it is. “You’ve Been Told” is a lovely acoustic song about another man attempting to muscle in on his girl. Big Dave is on his National, Dawson picks a fine solo, there’s great piano & tasty horns, it’s a keeper. The best song here, though, is the first single, a tuneful tribute to his home called “Manitoba Mud”. He should get the key to the province for this one. He ends with a plea for optimism in the face of misfortune, “There Will Always be a Change”. It fits very well with the sentiments expressed in “Manitoba Mud”. The band that Dawson assembled deserves special kudos: Gary Craig on drums, Jeremy Holmes on bass, Chris Gestrin on keys, Malcolm Aiken on trumpet, Jerry Cook on baritone and Dominic Conway on tenor. Big Dave’s web site is at www.blackhenmusic.com and it shows him staying out west for now.

Loose Blues News - October 2019
October 2019 - Myles Goodwyn