Monday, 13 March 2017

"Solo (Live)" by DON McLEAN (1994 and 2008 Beat Goes On - 2LP set Remastered onto 2CDs) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"…I Was Coming Back Anyway!"

After five studio albums covering the varying styles of Folk, Rock, Country, Dixieland and even Old Timey Music Hall - it was time for Don McLean to strip away all the studio gadgets - get back to basics and literally go 'Solo' on stage. Originally released in late 1976 as a vinyl double-album - "Solo" does what it says on the tin - it's just Don McLean and his guitar or his banjo or his voice ("Geordie Has Lost His Penker" is Acapella). With songs covering love, heartbreak, painters, hobos, poverty and lots of laughter and Americana inbetween - the crowd is swept along with his sincerity, his warmth and crafted performance skills.

So back in 1994 - Britain's Beat Goes On remastered much of his United Artists album catalogue from the Seventies - and this 2CD offering is one of those hidden nuggets. Here are the details...

Originally released November 1994 (reissued in December 2008) – "Solo (Live)" by DON McLEAN on Beat Goes On BGOCD 300 (Barcode 5017261203007) is a straightforward 2CD transfer of the vinyl double-album "Solo" originally released September 1976 in the USA on United Artists UA-LA652-H2 and in the UK on United Artists UAD 60139. It breaks down as follows...

Disc 1 (53:50 minutes):
1. Magdalene Lane
2. Masters Of War
3. Wonderful Baby
4. Where Were You Baby
5. Empty Chairs
6. Geordie's Lost His Penker
7. Babylon
8. And I Love You So [Side 2]
9. Mactavish Is Dead
10. Cripple Creek/Muleskinner Blues
11. Great Big man
12. Bronco Bill's Lament
13. Happy Trails
14. Circus Song
15. Birthday Song
16. On The Amazon

Disc 2 (50:48 minutes):
1. American Pie [Side 3]
2. Over The Waterfall/Arkansas Traveller
3. Homeless Brother
4. Castles In The Air/Three Flights Up
5. Lovesick Blues [Side 4]
6. Winter Has Me In Its Grip
7. The Legend Of Andrew McCrew
8. Dreidel
9. Vincent
10. Till Tomorrow

The 12-page booklet has typically excellent liner notes by JOHN TOBLER (dated 1994) with gatefold artwork on the inner pages. Tobler details much of McLean's career up to 1976 (Perry Como and Presley covering the gorgeous "And I Love You So" - the story of the black cripple and pauper Andrew McCrew finally getting a headstone because of McLean's song - and so on). The remaster was done at Sound Mastering (then in Cambridge) and is clean with only minor hiss issues on the very quietest of songs (doesn't say who did what). But it should be added that as this is a live set clearly from different audiences - the audio ping-pongs about a bit - but mostly it's a top-notch transfer and hugely evocative. Mostly you're too immersed in the storytelling to notice...

Amongst my favourites is "Winter Has Me In Its Grip" - originally on 1974's "Homeless Brother" - a typically simple song that slays you. The audience almost sings along to "And I Love You So" while the trio of "American Pie", "Vincent" and the lovely "Till Tomorrow" elicit just that - crowd sing-alongs ("Empty Chairs" is fabulous too). But the album belongs to "Babylon" where he splits the audience up into groups and has them singing various parts - each harmonising - it's frankly magical. McLean has always been a great songwriter - but this lovely BGO 2CD reissue shows what an amazing performer he is too into the bargain.

As he comes back out on stage to perform "Till Tomorrow" as an encore (ending Side 4) - he jokes - "I was coming back anyway!" I suspect that after you succumb to this reissue’s many charms - you'll find yourself doing exactly that...

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