Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Left Banke - Walk Away Renee...Pretty Ballerina (1966-67 us, wondrous psychedelia with baroque colours, Sundazed 2011 remaster)

Even in the heady musical atmosphere of 1967, the Left Banke's debut LP Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina stood out. The New York outfit's beguiling blend of classically-influenced songwriting, heart-tugging three-part harmonies and exquisitely textured arrangements resulted in music that embodied equal amounts of youthful innocence, autumnal melancholy and precocious musical sophistication.

The Left Banke perfected its singular sound on its iconic debut single "Walk Away Renée," a Top Five hit in its original release and an enduring pop standard in the years since, and on its equally affecting follow-up "Pretty Ballerina." The subsequent album that bore the titles of both singles was an equally impressive achievement, demonstrating remarkable depth and showing the band to be much more than a mere two-hit wonder.

The Left Banke's story is liberally strewn with bad choices, missed opportunities, interpersonal acrimony and squandered potential. But the negative aspects of the band's history are far less pertinent than the fact that, in their all-too-brief existence, the Left Banke created a consistently magnificent body of work that stands with the most original, inventive and emotionally resonant pop music of its era.

The members of the Left Banke were still in their teens in 1965, when Tom Finn struck up a friendship with Steve Martin-Caro, née Carmelo Esteban Martin Caro, who'd recently arrived in town from his native Spain. Finn and Martin had originally met on the street outside of Manhattan's City Squire Hotel, watching a mob of screaming girls awaiting the arrival of the Rolling Stones. They were soon joined by Finn's friend George Cameron and the Magic Plants' drummer Warren David-Schierhorst.

The budding band soon began visiting World United Recording, a modest studio at 48th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, where Finn's previous outfit the Magic Plants had recorded. There, they fell in with 16-year-old Michael Brown, a classically trained pianist and budding composer who was working at World United as an assistant and sometime session player. Brown was the son of the studio's owner Harry Lookofsky, a veteran jazz violinist who'd played on numerous sessions and recorded on his own as Hash Brown.

Since Brown had the keys to the studio, the quintet—with Martin on lead vocals, Cameron on guitar, Finn on bass, David on drums and Brown on keyboards—began convening there for late-night rehearsal sessions. Martin, Finn and Cameron quickly developed an organic vocal rapport, honing the distinctive three-part harmonies that would become a cornerstone of the Left Banke's sound. Brown's advanced musical skills increased the group's options considerably.

Soon, Brown's father took an interest in the nascent combo and became its manager, publisher and co-producer. Lookofsky's involvement would help to advance the Left Banke's early career, but his multiple roles (not to mention his status as father of the band's main songwriter) created conflicts of interest that would soon help to splinter the lineup.

The Left Banke began cutting tracks at World United in early 1966, recording such early tunes as "I've Got Something on My Mind" and "I Haven't Got the Nerve," both of which would end up on Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina. Aside from David's drumming and Brown's piano and harpsichord, the remaining instruments were played by session musicians. David was soon ousted from the band by Lookofsky after the drummer ran off to California with Brown; Lookofsky had the underage pair stopped by police at the airport and sent home. 
by Scott Schinder 
1. Pretty Ballerina (M. Brown) - 2:38
2. She May Call You Up Tonight (M. Brown, S. Martin, Caro) - 2:21
3. Barterers And Their Wives (T. Feher, M. Brown) - 3:00
4. I've Got Something On My Mind (S. Martin, Caro, G. Cameron, M. Brown) - 2:49
5. Let Go Of You Girl (S. Martin, Caro, G. Cameron, M. Brown) - 2:55
6. Evening Gown (T. Feher, M. Brown) - 1:46
7. Walk Away Renee (M. Brown, T. Sansone, B. Calilli) - 2:44
8. What Do You Know (T. Feher, M. Brown) - 3:00
9. Shadows Breaking Over My Head (S. Martin, Caro, M. Brown) - 2:36
10.I Haven't Got The Nerve (G. Cameron, S. Martin, Caro) - 2:16
11.Lazy Day (M. Brown, S. Martin, Caro) - 2:23

The Left Banke
*Tom Finn - Bass, Guitar, Vocals
*George Cameron - Drums, Percussion, Vocals, Guitar
*Steve Martin Caro - Lead Vocals, Drums. Tambourine, Guitar, Bass
*Michael Brown - Piano, Harpsichord, Clavinet, Organ, Vocals
Additional Musicians
*Buddy Saltzman - Drums
*Harry Lookofsky - Violin
*Seymour Barab - Cello
*George Marge - Oboe
*Hugh McCracken - Guitar
*Joe Mack - Bass
*Al Gorgoni - 12-string Acoustic Guitar
*John Abbott - Guitar, Bass
*Warren David-Schierhorst - Drums
*Rick Brand - Guitar
*George "Fluffer" Hirsh - Guitar
*Al Rogers - Drums
*Jeff Winfield - Guitar

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  1. Sourced from the original stereo tapes, we get the original track orders for this and The Left Banke Too. The CD features new liners and interviews (but when will Sundazed finally give us liners with the vinyl?).

    The ruffled collars, the Prince Valiant haircuts, the harpsichord... there is really no substitute for the classical-scented rock baroque of the Left Banke, a loose and historically unstable NYC pop group that made its mark in the salad days of 1966-67. Oldies radio has not let us forget their biggest hit "Walk Away Renee," a gentle, affected ballad with a huge chorus, soaring male vocals, and beautiful, ornate production. Follow-up single "Pretty Ballerina" is even stronger, with vocalist Steve Martin's falsetto gliding to dizzying heights.

    It's not easy to describe the band or their place in history, as their songwriting style was all but unparalleled, even as it struck right in the heart of Brill Building pop chronology. I remember fielding a question from a young fan who'd recently discovered the group's music, asking how many other bands sounded like the Left Banke, and the answer was... not many. You'd have to do some serious digging in the 45 bins to find any groups that made music this moving, yet so precious, that somehow pulled back right at the point where things might've gotten too maudlin or sappy. The Left Banke made fragile, gorgeous pop music that was out of joint with post-British Invasion rock & roll, and the hairier descendants that followed, as well as the hair-helmet professionalism of early '60s pop. Everything about their sound screamed "vulnerability," a characteristic that isn't often associated with hit music or with the longevity of bands that would make it.

    Sure enough, despite the two radio hits, the band never really gelled as a working, touring unit, and principal songwriter (and keyboardist) Michael Brown left the group after their first LP Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina, and issued a solo single under the band's name. Scandalized, the group pushed on without him on 1968's The Left Banke Too, an even more ambitious effort, with crazy complex arrangements (see the whisper-to-a-scream structures of "Desiree" (actually one of only two tracks on the record with Brown) and "There's Gonna Be a Storm") and a willingness to stretch out purely on longevity alone. Their earlier success would never be matched; the band splintered, and Brown recorded the #1 hit "Brother Louie" with Stories (itself a cover) a few years later. The Left Banke's music has been out of print for quite some time; Sundazed presents two exact reissues of these classic records, back again to enchant. Fans of groups like the Clientele or Belle & Sebastian will recognize the influence of the Left Banke straightaway. They are both wonderful albums for this time or any other.

    Thx Marios!

  2. cool, this will be an upgrade for me of some of these tracks! :D

  3. ha, I hung out with a guy, a very talented poet actually, in NYC who went to high school with "Renee"

  4. ....Renee Ballerina....came....

  5. Thanks Marios. I am so happy to find so many hidden treasure here like the Left Banke . In this blog there is so much music of quality and distinction. I appreciate it.