Big Dave McLean has a Pocket Full Of Nothin’

When most music fans think of Canada, they think first of Rush or, if they’re blues fans, they tend to think of the much missed Jeff Healey…well, here is another name to add to the Canadian catalogue. Big Dave McLean is a true blues musician from Winnipeg, who has released some superlative albums that paid homage to his (and mine) heroes…his covers of Robert Johnson and Elmore James in particular were exceptional. Well on his seventh release, Pocket Full Of Nothin’ he has decided to include nine of his own compositions and, with the help of Steve Dawson on guitar and production has put together another very good collection of true blues that will more than satisfy us aficionados. As he explains. “I’ve been happy to record my arrangements of other people’s songs, you know trying to bring something of a new perspective to them… so we ended up with nine original tunes on this record, which is the most I’ve ever recorded at one time.”

Opener, Songs Of The Blues, will leave you in no doubt as to BDM’s passion and capability as he explains his love of the blues with a horn and delicious guitar backing and a slide solo that is just wonderful. Vocally he always reminds me of Tony Ashton with a hint of Dave Acari, which is no bad thing and the slight gravel fits so well with the songs. Don’t Be Laying That Stuff On Me has slide and Hammond over subtle percussion and horns that brings a slight Chicago feel, but it is the guitar picking/strumming solo that fascinates and slide that lifts this to new heights: the short sax solo is good too, even if I would have preferred the slide to have taken centre stage. Backwards Fool is a familiar blues structure but the piano and the clever lyrics make it different and the harp solo from BD is fitting. It does have one of the best trumpet solos I’ve heard in a long time but it is the (too short) Cigar Box piece that had the hairs standing on end. All Day Party is just that…a rock ‘n’ roll song with the expected lilt and start/stop sections. The horn section has obviously had the most to drink as the three of them sound like a big band at full tilt and the piano solo is brilliant too. The first cover is next and the take on JB Lenoir’s Voodoo Music is a remarkable interpretation of a great song. The guitar approach is clever and refreshing with the phasing of the electric and, I think, more Cigar Box in the backing…it all comes together really well and the Hammond solo is inspired, as is the perfectly paced slide solo. Baby has a guitar intro that grabs you and makes this an irresistible song. Although composed by Bernard Roth, Just To Be With You is usually associated with Muddy Waters and BD has again put his own unique reading of this as the band deliver a dramatic update on this dark, wonderful slice of blues. Every instrument adds depth but the guitars of BD and Steve are pure genius. This is such a powerful blues song and the ingenious interpretation could place it on the Green Bullfrog album…it is that good: this is on repeat as we speak. When I Was Young has a great acoustic start before the horns cut in…I think I’d have preferred it if it had maintained that frantic acoustic-only approach but it still a neat song that is different to any other so far this year, especially with that solo after the bridge. You’ve Been Told tells of three destinations available to “you’…the morgue, the grave and the fires of hell. The whole thing is just great…frantic Cigar, sweet picked acoustic and a humorous (or is it!?) message. Next is a brave cover of The Allman classic, Midnight Rider. Juicy Lucy’s version was always the best cover for me…until now. This is sheer brilliance in its unique interpretation, with every aspect spot on.  Manitoba Mud provides the album title…” I got a pocket full of nothin’ and I’m trying to make it last”. It’s a clever piece with slide weaving behind the band and the sax solo leads to a beautifully discordant guitar piece I wish had been developed further. The final track, There Will Always Be A Change, wraps it all up nicely with a gospel(ish) intro before the pace picks up into a countrified slice of blues with, again, lovely guitars.

My guitar mad mind always wants more when the playing is so good but that doesn’t detract from a thoroughly enjoyable album full of varied and quality blues-based songs, all of which have merit. If you want your blues with a solid, knowledgeable base but with plenty of diversity and a modern edge, then give this a listen.

NINEpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Track Listing:

  1. Songs of the Blues
  2. Don’t Be Laying That Stuff on Me
  3. Backwards Fool
  4. All Day Party
  5. Voodoo Music*
  6. Baby
  7. Just to Be with You**
  8. When I Was Young
  9. You’ve Been Told
  10. Midnight Rider***
  11. Manitoba Mud
  12. There Will Always be a Change

All songs written by Dave McLean except:

* JB Lenoir and Willie Dixon

** Bernard Roth

*** Greg Allman and Robert Payne


Big Dave McLean: vocals, National Steel, electric and Cigar Box guitars

Steve Dawson: Vocals, acoustic, electric slide and National Steel guitars

Gary Craig: drums and percussion

Jeremy Holmes: electric and upright bass

Chris Gestrin: piano, Wurlitzer and organ

Malcolm Aiken: trumpet

Jerry Cook: baritone sax

Dominic Conway: tenor sax

Recorded at The Warehouse Studio, Vancouver.

Produced by Steve Dawson

(The iTunes mis-click before this album provided yet more proof of the wonderful blues of the 1920s as Big Boy Cleveland’s slide guitar on the majestic Goin’ To Leave You Blues could rival most of today’s proponents.)

Big Dave McLean has a Pocket Full Of Nothin’

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