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Big Dave McLean Rejoices In This Old Life

The Winnipeg bluesman delivers the goods once again on his latest studio album.

Big Dave McLean celebrates five decades with the blues on his latest album This Old Life — showcasing today on Tinnitist.

Is it possible to still be underrated at age 71, and after a five-decade career in which you’ve inspired just about everybody in Canadian blues? If you’re McLean, the answer is an emphatic “yes.” Thankfully, the Winnipeg blues king’s latest album This Old Life is here to showcase his mighty talents as a singer, harmonica player and slinger of the National guitar — skills that led Billboard to proclaim “he’s done more to shape the Western Canadian blues scene than perhaps any other artist.”

The new record is a 14-song collection of immediately indelible, classic blues, combining supremely authentic covers of tunes by legendary artists like Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Little Walter with three new McLean originals that can stand proudly with the best the art form has to offer. The bar is set by leadoff track Well, I Done Got Over It, an update of a 1953 Guitar Slim nugget that shows McLean’s soulful, gravelly rumble of a voice is perfectly suited to the archetypal lament of a good man done wrong:

“On the day we first met, baby
You sure was a sweet little thing
After a while you got so bad
You know it was a cryin’ shame
Well I done I got over it
Hey I done got over it
Lord I done got over it
I done got over that lass.”

*** Local Caption *** Big Dave McLean chose to play the blues because, he says, ‘it’s the people’s music.’

Takes on Waters’ Honey Bee and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s See That My Grave’s Kept Clean are among the smartly chosen, impeccably performed tributes that round out the record. Meanwhile, McLean shows his more romantic side on his own You Mean So Much to Me, gets wistful on Sometimes and spins a yarn of escalating neighborhood violence on the regretful, world-weary Billy Canton’s Bulldog.

In true traditionalist style, the album was recorded in just four days at The Ganaraska Recording Co. in Cobourg, Ont., on a purist’s arsenal of vintage instruments and equipment. And most of the tracks are first takes, with all of the core guitar, bass and drum tracks cut live off the floor. The approach was hugely satisfying to co-producer Steve Marriner, a Juno-winning musician in his own right who counts himself among McLean’s biggest fans.

“He is as genuine a bluesman as it gets, and I’ve been dying to capture Dave and present him to the rest of the world in the way I’ve always heard him: raw and real,” says Marriner, who also brought along his producing partner Jimmy Bowskill, to help shepherd the project and join him in its core performing ensemble. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done here. I think we’ve shown Dave and the music itself the deep respect [they’re] so deserving of.”

The Saskatchewan-born McLean has been earning that respect since 1969, when he received his first guitar lesson from bluesman John Hammond after a gig. After that, you couldn’t stop him: He became a regular presence on the Canadian club and festival scene, where his profuse talents and obvious love of the blues won him the support of further mentors like the aforementioned Waters, whose friendship ended up inspiring the title of McLean’s debut album, Muddy Waters For President.

But the blues has never been a rich man’s game, and for decades thereafter, McLean had to work in construction and at other odd jobs to supplement his gigging and recording habit. His struggles were even documented in a 2015 short, Ain’t About The Money.

Accolades, fortunately, have been a good deal more forthcoming. McLean has been nominated for three Junos and won one (for 1992’s Saturday Night Blues). He’s also received a Western Canadian Music Award, a Prairie Music Award, a Great Canadian Blues Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Toronto Blues Society. And in 2019, he was made a member of the Order of Canada, in recognition of his influence and mentorship of artists like Colin James, Shaun Verrault and Luke Doucette.

Is the mainstream finally catching up with the tastemakers? Everything about This Old Life points to a big breakthrough— ironically but rewardingly, since it makes no compromises in its warm embrace of everything that’s always been great about the music.

With the album out and the whirlwind tour looming, McLean is feeling reflective. “I would like to send out my deepest gratitude, respect and admiration to all of the many people who have shared their incredidble talents and have helped me present my interpretation of blues over the past fifty years or so,” he says.

Listen to This Old Life below — but don’t bother trying to find him on social media.