Big Dave McLean
April 25 @ 8:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Opener: Local blues musician Keith ‘Catfish’ Woodrow.
Black Hen Music’s description of Big Dave McLean’s latest album tells the tale. The first thing Big Dave McLean will tell you about Pocket Full Of Nothin’, his newest release, is that it isn’t a straight-ahead blues album. For, even though Dave has been playing the blues since he first heard John Hammond perform at the Mariposa Folk Festival fifty years ago, he’s always been open to a variety of musical styles and approaches to presenting a song. As Dave puts it, ‘Music is just music and when it’s good, you forget about the genre or whatever label you want to put on it, and just appreciate the beauty of what you’re hearing.’ Truer words were never spoken. It doesn’t matter if he’s playing country, folk, rock, R&B or blues. It all sounds right and true when Big Dave sings it.
Hailing from Winnipeg, a city that has produced more than its share of great musicians, Big Dave’s Pocket Full Of Nothin’ is his most ambitious album yet. Until now, Big Dave’s recordings have largely comprised of songs written by musical heroes such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Elmore James. But for his seventh album and third record in a row with the award winning guitarist Steve Dawson producing, he decided to try something a little different. ‘I don’t usually stand on my own material. 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. Steve asked if I had written anything new since we last got together, so I sent him a bunch of songs and much to my surprise, he really liked almost all of them, so we ended up with nine original tunes on this record, which is the most I’ve ever recorded at one time.’
Big Dave’s newest songs joyously communicate several musical flavours while keeping the integrity and continuity of the recording intact. Pocket Full Of Nothin’ was never envisioned as a simple blues album. “When I arrived at the Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, I just unpacked my guitar, blinked, and looked around the room at everyone. I took a breath and said, ‘Hi, my name is Dave and this is in the key of ‘E’. That’s when the magic started.’
With an assembled group of Black Hen regulars including Steve Dawson on multiple stringed instruments, Jeremy Holmes and Gary Craig handling bass and drums, and Chris Gestrin on piano and organ making up the nucleus of the band, what sets this recording apart form his previous efforts is the addition of a fully realized horn section. It was then a thrill and a pleasure when Steve brought in Jerry Cook on Baritone sax, Dominic Conway on tenor sax and Malcolm Aiken on trumpet. This truly made Big Dave’s sound complete as the ensemble dug right in and recorded the album mostly live off of the floor in just a few days.
On every track, Big Dave’s bellowing, prairie storm of a voice conjures smoke and fire as he delivers the most impassioned performances of his career. Big Dave explains, ‘you just have to be open. The Blues is a feeling, and you should play it the way you feel it.’
A few well-chosen cover songs are included to complement Big Dave’s original compositions on Pocket Full Of Nothin’. A gritty take of the Allman Brothers’ ‘Midnight Rider’ and J.B. Lenoir’s ‘Voodoo Music’ showcase McLean’s interpretive skills, and no record from the prairie native would be complete without at least one song associated with Muddy Waters. This time, he treats his listeners to an impassioned take on the old Chess Records gem, ‘Just To Be With You.’
The release of Pocket Full Of Nothin’ coincides with the thrilling announcement that Big Dave will receive an appointment to the Order of Canada for his contributions to the nation’s cultural life. He’ll be in good company when he receives his medal alongside Garth Hudson of The Band to join past recipients that include such iconic musicians as Stompin’ Tom Connors, Gord Downie and Gordon Lightfoot. And, when that day comes, there’ll be no better way to celebrate this long overdue recognition than to listen to Pocket Full Of Nothin’.