THE LEFT BANKE Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina (Shazam)
The Left Banke are more often plundered – Billy Bragg, Eels, The Four Tops and Matthew Sweet and Susannah Hoffs being among those who’ve covered the songs on this debut album – than heard – the band’s entire discography is currently out of print on CD. Their speciality was baroque pop, illuminating their sugary-sweet Byrdsian pop confections with string quartets, flutes and harpsichords, and the results are often stunning.
“Pretty Ballerina” and “She Might Call You Up Tonight” might cleave close to the romantic pop template but they do so brilliantly; few bands have managed to elucidate the fear, uncertainty and doubt of love as The Left Banke can in their better two-and-a-half-minutes. “Barterers And Their Wives” sounds almost medieval, yet “Evening Gown” is 106 scorching seconds of Them-style R&B rave-up. There’s real heartache behind the slightly studied, distancing vocal mannerisms of “Walk Away Renee”, and “What Do You Know” is an uncanny synthesis of just about every song Ringo sang lead vocal on during 1965, balancing dour, droll vocals with a country twang.
All told, this album’s an astonishing discovery, although Shazam’s limited edition vinyl reissue arrives shrouded in mystery. Apparently a Spanish operation, the lack of contact details and mysterious omission of banding between tracks might bring the legitimacy of this record into question. The sound quality isn’t brilliant, but it’s less of a disappointment than the Marvin Gaye and New York Dolls reissues I’ve bought recently, and it certainly doesn’t inhibit enjoyment of The Left Banke’s marvellous music.