Don McLean is back with his first new album for 8 years. Now I haven't heard an entire new album by Don since sometime in the late 1970's but have regularly heard him live on the radio over the years, so was hoping it would make me remember why I heard so much of his music as a kid and not just the big hits.
The album opens with Botanical Gardens, the record's titular song and the one which for me turns out to be for me the most problematic song on the record. Don imagines walking through various botanical gardens eyeing up both the flowers and beautiful girls he sees walking through and flirting with them over some gentle laid back folk rock. The lyrics that have been knocking around for a while that would be fine coming from a guy in his 30's or 40's, but it's a bit more complicated beyond that. However, this is definitely not about lusting after kids so it might just be okay in the current climate regardless.
The Lucky Guy is the first song I've heard since David Bowie's 1970 outtake to use the phrase "Ching A Ling" to describe anyone. It's a rather nice gentle love song to his partner and this is mature and really rather nice.
A Total Eclipse Of The Sun is about seeing a women he's not seen for 10 years and still being blown away by her before they get together for a life together. That suggests it might be a love letter to what I guess is his recently departed wife and how they slowly but surely came together. The music sounds familiar and has some real cool effects.
Waving Man is a rueful song about a guy who sits in a wheelchair waving at everyone. He turns out to be a war veteran who is waving at the man he was and the man he became emasculated from after the war and now just sits waving. It's sad, of course, and these days applies as much to the veterans of modern wars as much as the songs Don sang about Vietnam. Musically this is just downbeat enough and at a perfect pace for an audience to wave along with it.
When July Came is full of memories and gentle swirling strings over a piano motif for his lost love in a song that could have been by Hoagy Carmichael. It's really rather beautiful.
You're All I Ever Had is a fond farewell to his lost loved one. It's a slow gentle rumination and it softly says goodbye to one he never wanted to say goodbye to. The song itself gently re-works My Funny Valentine and keeps it very much towards the Chet Baker and Nina Simone versions. The simplicity of the setting works perfectly and it's very sad and poignant.
Rock 'n' Roll Baby is a bar-room blues rocker that sounds like it should be sung by some guy in his 20's using a bottle of beer for the slide guitar parts and getting really messy. Even so, it's a good song and sounds really good even if Don's voice sounds a bit too mature for the song he's singing as he takes it slow and easy.
I've Cried All The Tears that I Have is (as the title suggests) more rueful introspection about getting over the loss of his wife and trying to move on which has to be very difficult to do. The guitar picking and piano on this song are really cool and seem to have a neo-ragtime feel to them in places even if they are more gentle than that might imply.
Ain't She A Honey sounds like a typical 1970's slightly off-beam love song wherein Don describes what he thinks of his girl and what he says to make sure she's his for all time but it's heart is so far in the right place that I just want to play it for my girl.
The King Of Fools is about how his wife made a king of fools out of him as he'd do anything for her and his regret that she's gone before he has. The brushwork on the drums works wonders on this song to add to the tear-jerking aspects of the lyric and it is beautifully elegiac.
Grief And Hope maintains the rueful feel as he keeps hoping things feel better and he can carry on now his love has gone. It plays out over a gently strummed song that feels almost like it's made to have a singalong chorus which feels a touch strange but in a good way.
You've Got Such Beautiful Eyes is every bit as saccharine as you'd expect it to be. It's played at a gentle pace that reminds me of Wes Montgomery.
The album closes with its only cover: a version of Last Night When We Were Young, which is another perfect song to say goodbye to a lost loved one. The strings work as if they are trying to remind us of a Nelson Riddle arrangement. It's a nice way to finish up and proves Don McLean is still a serious singer-songwriter well worth listening to.
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