Still Playin' Favorites

Don McLean

Time Life, 2020

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones


It’s hard to believe, but we are coming up on the 50th anniversary of the iconic American Pie album and single (the original Don McLean track, not Madonna’s masochistic rendering of it). After that classic album, McLean released an album of covers called Playin’ Favorites. And now, in pandemic-laden 2020, McLean revisits this territory with Still Playin’ Favorites, which goes deep into the American songbook with tracks from Elvis, Dylan, Johnny Cash, and others.

All of it is done with a distinctively Americana/Country edge. In fact, listeners who are only familiar with “American Pie” and “Vincent” probably won’t recognize this more aged artist. It does not sound like his early ‘70s singer-songwriter stuff. In some places his voice falters, but his tracks have true character and convey enjoyment from the artist and the band. So many releases today are sterilized by so many studio techniques that the emotion is lost. This album has a distinctly “live” feel to it. While there is an attempt here to sound like both Johnny Cash and Muddy Waters – see “Doggone Lonesome” and “Backwater Blues” – both come up a little short.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And there’s some choices on song arrangements that are interesting. “Greenback Dollar” is far different in arrangement than anyone would expect. “Little Sister” is taken out of the rock and roll mold in which Elvis formed the classic version, and McLean turns it into a country doowop. The other Elvis track, “Treat Me Nice,” hasn’t worn well in the woke era, but the arrangement here is somewhat tongue in cheek – whether purposefully or not, I cannot tell. 

But there are other tracks that are absolutely amazing. “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” is a Bob Dylan cover and as such is the most complex song both lyrically and in musical structure. “Hide Nor Hair” is equally a stand out as a humorous explanation of a breakup that adores many people to classic country. “Backwater Blues” and “Key To The Kingdom” are not as great as white blues, but are still fun tracks for listening.

McLean may not be at his “American Pie” best here, and he’s not recreating the great American songbook like Rod Stewart did, but he’s drawing on his roots and you can tell he’s loving every minute of it. That’s really what music is all about anyway.

Rating: B

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