Monday, 13 March 2017

"Homeless Brother" by DON McLEAN (1994 and 2008 Beat Goes On CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"…I'm Too Young To Feel This Old…" 

Don McLean albums are often hit and miss affairs ("Homeless Brother" is no different). But possessed of a way with melody that few artists have – when New York State Don hits that sweet spot - the results are gorgeous and often impossibly moving.

Back in 1994 Britain’s Beat Goes On remastered much of his United Artists album catalogue from the Seventies - and this 1974 offering is one of those hidden nuggets. Here are the details…

Originally released November 1994 (reissued in December 2008) – "Homeless Brother" by DON McLEAN on Beat Goes On BGOCD 247 (Barcode 5017261202475) is a straightforward transfer of his 5th album released November 1974 in the USA on United Artists UA-LA315-G and also November 1974 in the UK on United Artists UAG 29646 (38:26 minutes):

1. Winter Has Me In Its Grip
2. La La Love You
3. Homeless Brother
4. Sunshine Life For Me (Sail Away Raymond)
5. The Legend Of Andrew McCrew
6. Wonderful Baby
7. You Have Lived
8. Great Big Man
9. Tangled (Like A Spider In Her Hair)
10. Crying In The Chapel
11. Did You Know

The 12-page booklet has typically excellent liner notes by JOHN TOBLER (dated 1994) followed by song lyrics and musician credits. The remaster was done at Sound Mastering (then in Cambridge) and is beautifully clean with only minor hiss issues on the very quietest of songs (doesn’t say who did what). It’s a top-notch transfer.

McLean is a fantastic lyricist - painting images that are so vivid. In "Lonesome Brother" we get " was just a drunken hobo...dancin' circles in the night...pourin’ whisky on the headstones in the blue moonlight…" and in "You Have Lived" he admires a social outcast "...confined by fashion and peer…I love you for your courage in this frighten atmosphere…" Inspired by Fred Astaire and dedicated to him – McLean’s "Wonderful Baby" would eventually be recorded by the master dancer himself in 1976 on Astaire's "Attitude Dancing" album (United Artists UK put McLean's song out as a 45 in January 1975 on UP 35764 with "Homeless Brother" on the flip). The upbeat and decidedly fruity "La La Love You" has Don pleading with his lady to "...just let me ride your box car…and I'll hobo with you…" - naughty boy.

One of the huge songs on the album even made the news in the USA and changed a forgotten soul’s final fate. “The Legend Of Andrew McGrew” tells the story of a tramp’s body sat prostate in a straw chair – his mummified remains peddled for decades as a travelling-show exhibit. Highlighting McGrew’s horrible treatment - the song finally saw the lost man be given a decent burial. The lovely ballad “Tangled (Like A Spider In her Hair)” sees him sing and play acoustic guitar with only the faintest of percussion from Ralph McDonald. He then shares an Acapella rendition of The Orioles 1953 Vocal Group hit on Jubilee “Crying In The Chapel” with The Persuasions – the lack of instruments give it a Fifties feel and make it all the more striking (the song was also covered memorably by Elvis in 1965 on RCA).

One of my favourites is the gentle opener “ Winter Has Me In Its Grip” – a typically simple song that slays you. Yusef Lateef provides Flute as McLean does a truly gorgeous backing vocal duet with Kenny Vance (lyrics from it title this review). The album ends on one of the album’s prettier songs “Did You Know” – again just McLean and acoustic guitar with a Willis Jackson Tenor Saxophone towards the end.

It's not "American Pie" (1971) or "Playing Favourites" (1973) - but those "Homeless Brother" moments are right up there. A lovely reissue…

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