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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Don McLean's Oldies Are Still Goodies at Ambassador

April 27, 1993|DON HECKMAN

"When people ask about the meaning of 'American Pie,' " said Don McLean at the start of his Ambassador Auditorium concert Sunday afternoon, "I say it means I don't have to work anymore if I don't want to."

Fortunately, McLean still wants to. Accompanied by guitarist John Platania, he sailed enthusiastically through a program that included everything from country classics to group sing-alongs and a full sampling of his own hits.

Especially provocative were the evolving interpretations of his originals. McLean's reading of "And I Love You So," for example, opened layers of emotion in a song best known in the bland Perry Como version. "Castles in the Air" and "Empty Chairs" emerged as equally dense perspectives on the complex business of relationships.

"Vincent" and "American Pie" were a bit less developed--beautifully performed, but without the sharpening edge of some of the other songs. The title track from McLean's first album, "Tapestry," was a surprising addition to the program, a remarkably prescient anthem to the environment written more than two decades ago.

What was absent was new material. At his finest, McLean was one of the most fascinating of the '70s' songwriters. It's nice to hear his old stuff, but it would be even better to hear how his rich poetic imagination deals with the turbulence of the '90s.

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