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Archive for June 30th, 2011

Review: The Left Banke, “Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina” and “The Left Banke Too”

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After listening to The Left Banke’s two original albums, just reissued by Sundazed, I have only one question: what took so long?

The group’s recorded output was collected back in 1992 by Mercury on There’s Gonna Be A Storm: The Complete Recordings 1966-1969.  Besides getting my vote for Best Rhino Album Not Actually Produced By Rhino (Bill Inglot produced and Andrew Sandoval annotated…’nuff said!), the single disc compilation offers a remarkable view of the group that soared with 1966’s “Walk Away Renee” and then crashed in a big way.  But Sundazed’s remasters of 1967’s Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina (SC 6276/LP 5375) and its 1968 follow-up, The Left Banke Too (SC 6277/LP 5376), are the first CD appearances of these two albums in their original album configurations.  (They’re also available on LP.)  Again, friends: what took so long?  But no matter.  They’re here now, and they’re essential listening for any fans of that heady time in music when studio experimentation was at a high – along with certain consciousnesses! –  and anything was possible.

The Left Banke’s oeuvre has most often been described as “baroque pop” or “baroque rock.”  Sure enough, the debut album’s “Barterers and their Wives,” with its prominent harpsichord, is a quintessential example of those genres.   Chief songwriter and classically trained pianist Michael Brown, one fourth of The Left Banke, pushed the envelope with his intricate ballads.  Most of them were arranged by John Abbott, including the two hit singles that were released in advance of the LP and gave the album its title. “Pretty Ballerina” utilizes violin, cello and oboe on a stunning track that supports Steve Martin-Caro’s haunting lead vocal.  “Just close your eyes and she’ll be there…”  But the one that started it all, “Walk Away Renee,” was the perfect synthesis of the baroque style and commercial pop sensibility.  Its wistful, resigned lyric is set to a melody with a big sing-along chorus – the soul lurking underneath was quickly discovered by the Four Tops – and the three-part harmony (a Left Banke specialty thanks to Martin-Caro, bassist/guitarist Tom Finn and percussionist George Cameron) practically blended into one voice on the chorus.  Needless to say, it sounded perfect coming out of an AM radio!  The band didn’t count, however, on the success of “Renee” leading to a demand for live performances.  The Left Banke in concert was heavily reliant on cover versions; they simply couldn’t replicate the complex arrangements live! 

Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina is far from the work of one-trick ponies, though.  Read on after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 30, 2011 at 11:25

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, The Left Banke

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