The Left Banke

There's Gonna Be A Storm: The Complete Recordings, 1966-1969 (Mercury ’92) Rating: A-
This New York outfit was one of the first bands to consistently meld rock and classical elements together, the end result being a beautiful sound that was termed “baroque pop.” The band were generally at their best on mellower material, where they could drench their Beatles-inspired melodies with lovely string coatings and dainty vocal harmonies. If this sounds like it’s not quite manly enough for you, well, I strongly urge that you give the lads a try (and they were lads, as group mastermind and primary songwriter Michael Brown was a mere teenager). I mean, you’ve probably at least heard the wondrous “Walk Away Renee,” the undeniable classic that most people remember this band for, but I swear that there are several other songs here that are almost as good. For example, “Pretty Ballerina” is another minor classic in a similar style, while “Barterers And Their Wives” and “Shadows Breaking Over My Head” are other deliciously delicate ballads with classical overtones. Better still is “She May Call You Up Tonight” and “I’ve Got Something On My Mind,” both of which are beautifully melodic and catchy sing alongs that are damn near impossible not to like. Elsewhere, songs such as “Let Go Of You Girl” (an evocative rocker), “What Do You Know” (a catchy country sing along), “Evening Gown” (a tough r&b number), and “Lazy Day” (an intense psychedelic rocker) proved that the band were more versatile than they’re generally given credit for. The band’s first album, Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina, was easily their best and is included here in its entirety, though in a different sequence, which has little overall effect. Unfortunately, despite being artistically successful the band had a tough time following up their initial 1-2 punch (“Walk Away Renee”/”Pretty Ballerina”) commercially, and they’ve since had to settle for a small cult following and critical acclaim as one of the “great lost bands of the ‘60s.” Perhaps The Left Banke could’ve accomplished more, but internal friction caused Brown to leave the band soon after their debut album in late 1967, though the rest of the band gamely soldiered on with surprising success (again, artistically speaking). I prefer to consider this generous 75-minute compilation as their first album with a ton of top bonus cuts added on, and it's really all you need to own from this underrated band, whose music deserves to endure. Note # 1: Brown penned three of their biggest and best songs about bandmate Tom Finn's girlfriend Renee Fladen. Perhaps that helped cause the band’s short-lived existence? Note # 2: This compilation isn’t quite accurately named, as it fails to include their later one-off single "Love Songs In the Night”/ “Two By Two.” Note #3: Improbably, a young singer named Steven Tyler (yes, that Steven Tyler) sings backup on “Nice To See You,” “My Friend Today,” and “Dark Is The Bark.”

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