I’m probably the wrong person to review a blues album, my knowledge of the blues is sketchy at best and missing decades of artists and variations. I’m familiar with Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and BB King but then there is a huge gap until the era of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Peter Green and, much later, John Mayer.
I don’t get excited over endless guitar licks and solo’s (and I have never understood the reason for using the word “blues” in titles and lyrics) but ‘Pocket Full of Nothin’’ from Winnipeg native Big Dave McLean is something of a welcomed game-changer. If you are expecting those guitar solos ruling the roost, then you’ll be disappointed, the music is nicely balanced, and the emphasis is on the overall sound of the band rather than allowing one thing to shine.
It’s a nice introduction to the world of blues, taking in different styles and flavours of the genre, it switches mood and atmosphere, allowing R&B and soul music to raise its welcomed head.
Having a brass section is an inspired choice as it opens a whole new direction for the music to move into, of course there are blues songs, this is the epicentre of the music, but it’s able to switch and blur – but the album still feels connected and rattles along very nicely.
McLean’s voice isn’t the typical smoke-smeared creaky door voice that we’ve come to expect from a blues man, instead it’s quite light, counteracting the subject but giving a feeling of optimism and educated musicianship, he sings slightly off key on opening track ‘Songs of the Blues’ but it works. It reminded me of the way Chet Baker would approach singing, attacking the quarter tone to give added interest.
Normally this is the moment in a review where I would say something like “the guitar work really stands out with nicely placed solos and an understanding of the music” but that wouldn’t work here, the understanding of the music is obvious from the get go, this is an album dripping with knowledge of the blues. Where the album really wins is by allowing the listener to experience the music at their own speed, it feels like a menu in a restaurant where there is lots on offer and if something isn’t for you, then go to the next item (or track in this case) because there is bound to be something for everyone.
If you’re already a paid-up fan of the blues, you might already be familiar with McLean’s music, but if you’re not, but you’re partial to some blues, or you like the Detroit r&b brass, it might be worth giving it a go. It’s blues but set against a far wider backdrop