Don McLean

Solo

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Don McLean's final album for United Artists was a musical tour de force, and the best self-contained account of the full breadth of McLean's talent. Recorded live in England, in Manchester, Bristol, London, and Oxford, the 26 songs encompassed not only the artist's best-known work, but also many of his personal favorites, among them works by other composers (including Bob Dylan's "Masters of War"). All the songs are done solo by McLean on acoustic guitar and banjo, performing in a loose, freewheeling style more appropriate to a folk performance at a small club than a rock concert -- except that McLean was doing these performances to tens of thousands of people at a time. He ranges freely across his repertory, including a loose yet sincere rendition of "American Pie" and a stunning version of "Till Tomorrow" (his encore), through "The Arkansas Traveller" and "Homeless Brother" to "Castles in the Air," the last in a version that makes the studio recording seem cold and sterile. Ironically, given that it's one of the best records he ever put out and a great capstone to his career at United Artists, Solo was the only album he ever did for the label that never charted, in either England or America, possibly because it was a double-LP and very expensive, and was also issued just late enough into the 1970s to run into the twin juggernauts of punk and disco.

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