Artist: Big Dave McLean
Album: The Devil You Know
Label: Black Hen
Release Date: 10/21/2016
Big Dave McLean is a highly acclaimed Canadian roots and blues musician, hailed in some quarters as “Winnipeg’s ‘Howlin’ Wolf.” His gruff, raspy voice, and feel for the traditional acoustic blues and gospel has long established him as the preeminent blues artist in western Canada. He’s been around long enough to have opened for his hero, Muddy Waters. He has won countless awards and influenced many Canadian players, apparently getting his start from an impromptu guitar lesson from John Hammond at the 1969 Mariposa Folk Festival.
While McLean did not necessarily build these songs around a theme, the album is heavily weighted toward gospel and homage. He covers Blind Willie Johnson’s “You’re Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond,” adding his harmonica. His original, “Talk About a Revelation,” was inspired by the mass shooting in Paris. His “Swinging on Heaven’s Gate” was written back in 2000 after the deaths of his father and a hell-raising friend. Dawson contributed two tunes; “The Side of the Road,” for Skip James and “Angeline,” a tune about the aforementioned Blind Willie Johnson leaving his wife.
There are two Muddy Waters covers: “You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had,” with Kevin McKendree adding an Otis Spann like piano; and the vintage Delta blues of “Deep Down in Florida.” “Where the Music Comes From” was inspired by a trip to Clarksdale, MS a few years ago and “Pet Rabbit,”a cover of Johnny Shines, was intentionally recorded in a 1930s kind of style. Throughout the album, the 65 year old McLean is impassioned on every note played and syllable sung.
This may even be stronger than his last collaboration with Dawson, Faded but not Gone. With some from Canada and some from Nashville, it would be difficult to assemble a better supporting cast of musicians. Joining McLean (vocals, harmonica, guitar, National steel) are Dawson on a host of string instruments, McKendree on keyboards, the rhythm section from Blackie & the Rodeo Kings (Gary Craig on drums and John Dymond on bass), Fats Kaplin on mandolin and fiddle, with Ann and Regina McCrary on backing vocals. The interplay of these musicians is seamless and natural—perfect accompaniment for McLean’s often rough, but authentic delivery. This is no nonsense, no pretension blues, served up right.