Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Billy Joel: “Streetlife Serenade” (2015) Hybrid Multichannel SACD Review

Streetlife Serenade was one of the first Billy Joel albums I ever purchased (on cassette), and though this wasn’t one of his most popular releases, it has always been one of my favorites. It was his third album (his second for Columbia), and was originally released in 1974. He is backed by a really good band, which includes Ron Tutt on drums. You might recognize him from his work with Jerry Garcia and Neil Diamond, among others. Michael Stewart, of We Five, is one of the guitarists on this album. Larry Knetchtel, of Bread (and a member of the Wrecking Crew), plays bass. I think this is one of Billy Joel’s most interesting albums. Lyrically, it is quite strong, and it also includes two instrumentals. And now is a good time to give this one another listen, as Audio Fidelity has released a hybrid multichannel SACD version, and it sounds great. This is a limited, numbered edition (I’m not sure just how many were made, but my copy is number 2258).

The album opens with its title track, or rather the song that comes closest to being the title track, “Streetlife Serenader.” This is a song which begins beautifully on piano and never fails to work for me. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Streetlife Serenader/Never sang on stages/Needs no orchestration/Melody comes easy.” I love his vocals on this song, but it is the instrumental sections that really move me. There is some nice, pretty work on keys here.

That is followed by “Los Angelenos,” a song which I appreciate even more now that I live in Los Angeles. It begins, “Los Angelenos/All come from somewhere/To live in sunshine/Their funky exile.” I like that phrase, “funky exile.” I also like these lines: “No one ever has to feel/Like a refugee/Going into garages/For exotic massages/Making up for all the time gone by.” And he sings those lines with a bit of a silly accent, adding to the playful tone of this tune. “The Great Suburban Showdown” has a line that always strikes me as funny: “And I know it should be fun, but I think I should’ve packed my gun.” I also always liked the line, “I’m only coming home to say goodbye.”

But one of my favorite tracks is the instrumental “Root Beer Rag.” It’s a fun, fast-paced ragtime little gem. It never fails to put a smile on my face. The album contains a second instrumental track, “The Mexican Connection,” which is fun once it kicks in. I like it, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to end the album with “Souvenir.”  “Souvenir” is another of my favorites. It’s a beautiful (and short) song, featuring the line, “Every year’s a souvenir/That slowly fades away.”

Another of the CD’s highlights is “The Entertainer,” a wonderful look at the music industry from an insider’s perspective. Here is a bit of the lyrics: “I am the entertainer and I know just where I stand/Another serenader and another longhaired band/Today I am your champion, I may have won your hearts/But I know the game, you’ll forget my name/And I won’t be here in another year/If I don’t stay on the charts.” Another verse refers to the shortening of “Piano Man” for radio play: “It was a beautiful song but it ran too long/If you’re gonna have a hit you gotta make it fit/So they cut it down to 3:05.” This song also features Tom Whitehorse on banjo. “The Entertainer” was the only single from this record, reaching #34 on the Billboard Hot 100.

CD Track List
  1. Streetlife Serenade
  2. Los Angelenos
  3. The Great Suburban Showdown
  4. Root Beer Rag
  5. Roberta
  6. The Entertainer
  7. Last Of The Big Time Spenders
  8. Weekend Song
  9. Souvenir
  10. The Mexican Connection
This special limited edition of Streetlife Serenade was released on May 26, 2015 through Audio Fidelity. 

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