He’s big and "battle-scarred" and he’s been around the block many times. Canadian acoustic blues icon Big Dave McLean is also a supreme storyteller whose relentless touring spanning four decades has provided grist for the mill for countless fans from coast-to-coast, inducing them to pour into juke joints, coffee houses and concert halls to hear his raw, passionate and gravelly vocals. One moment he’s weaving heartfelt stories bone-jarring immediacy and the next moment he’s regaling us with time-honored treasures culled from such influences as Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Sleepy John Estes. As a teenager growing up in Winnipeg during the early 70s, Dave never missed a gig whenever touring Chicago vets like Johnny Shines, Roosevelt Sykes and especially Muddy Waters came to town. They took an instant liking to the fledgling musician and saw their reflection in his own dedication to his craft.
"Get Em’ From The Bottom" is Big Dave McLean’s third release on Stony Plain Records and it’s generous to a fault: 19 selections to be precise. It’s all set within in a generally, sparse acoustic setting. He’s got some backing from his quality band of time-tested Winnipeg musicians, but there’s quite a few straight solo numbers as well. Strictly-speaking, it’s not a live club recording, but the mind’s eye says otherwise.
"Sometimes" kicks things off in full-throttle mode, just one man and his guitar playing off each other. It gives a sneak preview of the many delights that follow. "Why Do Girls Do That" is a slice of light-hearted blues, an elaboration through words of what a lot of us think. Dave’s smoking harmonica chops really come to the fore on this one. "Atlanta Moan" is the first of several covers and Dave digs deep down into the darkest crevices of his soul. It’s blues at its bone-chilling best and the guitar work is strictly standout. "Someday Baby" is a blues durable bequeathed by Sleepy John Estes and Big Dave understands its nuances to the fullest.
"Don’t Shy Away" is another stripped-down, yet powerful blues. The acoustic guitar work from Big Dave and Chris Carmichael has an elegance that takes things to an even higher level. "Michael Henderson" is another original and an exceptional accomplishment. The protagonist was an actual person, a hard-luck guy gunned down by police after shooting a taxi driver near a Winnipeg hotel. But McLean’s eulogy is as mournful as a family’s wail and goes way beyond a mere recitation of facts. It delves into the recesses of a very troubled man on a very fateful day "when his heart was filled with sorrow and jealousy had destroyed his mind. Now he’s sleeping with the devil ‘til the end of time." It’s what’s commonly referred to as a career song.
Big Dave’s medley "Lonesome Blues/Forty Four" is a tribute to his mentors Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and it’s a definite highlight. He’s probably sung them a thousand times, but they define who he is and he pours his entire being into each with his gripping vocals. He also salutes Sonny Boy Williamson on "Good Morning Little School Girl" and it’s an unalloyed treat. On Lightnin’ Hopkins’ gospel-tinged "Needed Time," his 92-year-old mother Pearl makes a guest appearance and there’s a palpable sense of sheer joy in the air.
Big Dave’s haunting slide guitar is evident throughout "Get ‘ Em From The Bottom,’ but I was especially smitten by his work on "Waverly" which packs a major emotional wallop with its tale of unrequited love. There’s much, much more, including "Paper Angel," where he’s backed by a family chorus of his three children, mom and wife. It’s a blast! Big Dave McLean is the real deal, a standout performer with a wellspring of creativity at his disposal. On "Get ‘Em From The Bottom," we receive a gracious and intimate blues invitation and it's delivered to us with intensity and authority. This one comes highly recommended.