Don McLean at the Royal Albert Hall, London, October 26th 2007

Independent Newspaper review, 1 November 2007
By Pierre Perrone
“We’ll be doing that Madonna hit later on. Maybe she’s here tonight, incognito, with a fake beard,” says Don McLean, back on a London stage after a four-year absence. “America’s legendary singer-songwriter” lives up to the introduction, too, and even attracts a smattering of younger fans who surely discovered him via Madonna’s ghastly reworking of his epochal “American Pie”.All in black, looking like Johnny Cash’s slightly dis-hevelled younger brother, McLean eases in with covers of “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and “Everyday”, two songs associated with his hero Buddy Holly, whose death provided the starting point for “American Pie”. Acknowledging his influences and injecting some up-tempo material at the start of an occasionally sedate set shows how consummate a performer McLean is; it sounds effortless as he works his way through “Winterwood”, “If We Try” and “Empty Chairs”.

Listening to “And I Love You So” – a sentimental ballad later covered by Perry Como – from Tapestry, his debut album in 1970, you understand why McLean never cut as radical a figure as Bob Dylan. He was always more of an “everyman” observer, here happily singing about the joys of fatherhood – “Little Darling”, dedicated to his daughter – though his concern for drifters and the homeless comes through in “Homeless Brother” and “Bronco Bill’s Lament”.

McLean has a knack for writing affecting songs about tragic destinies, such as that of George Reeves, the TV actor typecast as Superman, in “Superman’s Ghost”, or Van Gogh in “Vincent”, one of his two British No 1s. The other one, a revival of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”, followed by a rocking take on Elvis’s “I Gotta Know”, as well as nods to the songbooks of Hoagy Carmichael and Woody Guthrie, show how versatile a vocalist McLean is. Though his delivery occasionally wavers, he never fails to hit the notes and leads the audience through an extended sing-along version of “American Pie”.

And there’s still time for “The Three Of Us”, a poignant song about the passing of his parents, the perennial “Castles In the Air”, and a banjo reminder of his folkie days as the final encore.

McLean didn’t need the easy listening revival or the “guilty pleasures” phenomenon to hold his place in people’s consciousness. His music still makes us smile.

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