DON McLEAN – Botanical Gardens (BMG538329932)

Botanical GardensForty-seven years and 19 albums on, McLean’s name is still preceded in reviews by “American Pie singer” and for most people, he’s still probably associated with that and ‘Vincent’. Now 72, Botanical Gardens, his first (and rumouredly last studio recording) in eight years, the first for a major label since 1995 isn’t going to change that.

His voice, as you’d imagine, is more seasoned these days, at times a little on the wobbly side, but he still has the ability to gather you up while the music, a mixed brew of folk, country, blues, rock and a dash of vaudeville, offers a relaxed, melodic listen in the classic manner. The title track, a rolling country blues and gospel number, was apparently inspired by a visit to gardens near the Sydney Opera House and sets the theme of being rejuvenated by love (undoubtedly sparked by the current relationship with his 24-year-old girlfriend) that bubbles through the majority of the songs. Indeed, the title of the twangy Marty Robbins-styled country ‘The Lucky Guy’ pretty much speaks for itself while on the goodtime soft shoe shuffle ‘Ain’t She A Honey’ (slap a big band on it and it could have come from the 40s) his baby’s hot, “a ripper with a buckle and a zipper.. a looker and a steam pressure-cooker. ”

Elsewhere, the giddiness of romance – and the feeling of not quite believing his luck – is also to be found on the similarly retro jazzy swing of ‘You’ve Got Such Beautiful Eyes’, a number you could hear Willie Nelson covering, and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Your Baby’ which is, well more rocking especially on those 50s sounding guitar solos. Led by piano, there’s a laid back jazzy swing too on ‘I’ve Cried All The Tears That I Have’ with its sentiment about how “it’s better to love and to lose than decide you don’t want to live.”

But it’s not all positive and upbeat. Enrobed with swelling strings, ‘The King Of Fools’, another Willie contender, reflects on screwing up a past relationship as he sings “castles and mansions lie ruined in the sand…I lost your love, my crown and jewels”, while the musically dramatic ‘A Total Eclipse Of The Sun’ looks back to a brief encounter that left him metaphorically bleeding in the dust. The lyrics refer to meeting this heartbreaker back in a hot July and the same month is at the heart of ‘When July Comes’, a stark piano ballad with McLean in terrific voice on a lyric that brushes up against mortality. It calls to mind Brel, Aznavour and, especially, Sinatra, the latter’s influence making itself further felt in the album’s only cover, a piano and strings arrangement of Arlen and Harburg’s ‘Last Night When We Were Young’ which the Guv’nor recorded on In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning.

Nor is it exclusively about matters of the heart. Another early 50s-styled piano ballad, on the surface ‘You’re All I Ever Had’ would seem to be about a constant lover, but dig a little deeper and it’s more likely about his lifetime’s love affair with music. Of a topical persuasion, while it may have been written in 2015, set to a saloon bar piano, the country swaying gospel ‘Grief and Hope’, a song about healing and looking to a better tomorrow, seems particularly pertinent in a divided Trump America. And, striking a similarly optimistic note, the other, the most country sounding number, with its echoes of Cash and Haggard, is ‘The Waving Man’, which dates back further to 2014, and is actually about one of McLean’s neighbours in Camden, Maine, wheelchair-bound veteran Kert Ingraham who, told he wasn’t allowed to smoke in his care home, took to sitting in the street outside, waving to folk as they passed by, the lyrics musing “does he wave goodbye to the life he led or does he wave hello to the life ahead?” If this really does prove McLean’s recording swansong, Botanical Gardens sees him bow out in full bloom.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artist’s website: https://don-mclean.com

Don McLean – new album

Don McLean

With over 40 gold and platinum records worldwide, Don McLean is one of America’s most beloved country artists. Botanical Gardens, his 19th studio album and first in eight years, is arguably one of Don’s most reflective to date, as he puts it,

“The inspiration for the project started years ago when I would walk in the beautiful gardens in Sydney, Australia near the Opera House. I would dream young dreams and it was a comfort and an inspiration. I was always young inside, like we all are, and I felt it again there.”

Further reflecting on the record, Don says, “the whole album really revolves around the title song. Later on I realized that the gardens are really a metaphorical heaven, and there’s a kind of death and rebirth.”

Intimacy can be found at the heart of this record, with Don penning personal numbers looking back on a life well lived, as well as his observations on youth and love. Recording at Watershed Studios in Nashville also allowed a different kind of intimacy for Don and his band, as they were made to “play close and feel the music”, resulting in a raw, yet tight sound throughout.

Don proves his prowess at writing timeless sounding songs once again, as the album weaves country, Americana, folk, and boot stomping rock in this release. In nearly 50 years on the scene, Don’s songs have become a staple in Americana music. His music has been performed by artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Madonna, Fred Astaire, Chet Atkins, Weird Al Yankovick, George Michael, Josh Groban, Coolio and Ed Sheeran and his biggest hit ‘American Pie’ was recognised with high honours by being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003.

Don famously only uses Martin guitars. He has more than 40 Martin guitars and in the year 2000, the Martin Guitar Company honoured Don McLean with his own limited edition signature guitar, the D40DM.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: https://don-mclean.com/

There’s nothing from the new album yet but here’s a live version of the classic ‘American Pie’: