Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Left Banke: “Strangers On A Train” (1986/2022) CD Review

The Left Banke, known for the big hit “Walk Away Renée,” broke up in 1969 after releasing only two albums and several singles. They reunited in 1978 and recorded an album’s worth of material, which was not released until 1986 under the title Strangers On A Train (though in the UK it was released as Voices Calling). Now that album is being re-issued, with six bonus tracks that were previously unreleased, and new liner notes by Scott Schinder. Most of the original tracks were written or co-written by Tom Finn, while the bonus material was written or co-written by Michael Brown. As you’d expect, these tracks contain plenty of great harmonies.

The album opens with its title track, “Strangers On A Train,” which has a sweet, easygoing 1970s sound. “Strangers on a train/There’s nothing left to hide/But the love you have inside/You’re waiting to share.” And when it kicks in, the vocals have the sort of energy and sound that Paul McCartney had when he would suddenly tear into a lyric in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the song becomes exciting. Toward the end, the track really takes off and becomes a good jam. I wish that section went on a little longer. That’s followed by “Heartbreaker” (geez, how many artists recorded songs with that title in the 1970s?), this one written by Tom Finn and Steve Martin Caro. It features some nice work on electric guitar and some strong vocal work. “Love is all you want/It’s all you need to get you by/But love can make you cry/And I did for you and I.”

“Lorraine” is a pretty song, featuring some good work on piano and a passionate vocal performance. “Don’t you know that I wonder why/Did we have to say goodbye/When we could have gone on dreaming/Yes, dreaming/Lorraine, Lorraine/I know we’ll make it one day/Maybe Monday/I’ll be there with you.” That’s followed by “Yesterday’s Love,” which also begins as a mellow, pretty number, with some beautiful harmonies. Soon the lyrics are belted out with that delicious raw power. “Who wants yesterday’s wine/Those memories of time we once had/You lost yesterday’s love/And yesterday’s gone away.” This one was written by Tom Finn, Steve Martin Caro and George Cameron. Then “Hold On Tight” begins with rock and roll guitar intro that is part Chuck Berry, and part Beatles’ “Revolution,” and quickly becomes a fun track, with a good summer vibe and energy.

“And One Day” is one of the album’s best songs. It is moving and beautiful, with an excellent vocal performance. These are the song’s opening lines: “And one day/You’ll think of all the things she did/That made you laugh/You lost the way.” This song also features some wonderful work on strings. That’s followed by another of the album’s highlights, “You Say.” “You think/There’s no one here you can talk to/You say/No one’s crying but you.” It feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Both of those songs were composed by Tom Finn, Steve Martin Caro and George Cameron.

The lines from “I Can Fly” that stand out for me are “I have no need for truth/Or for lies/To see the light of dawn/In your eyes.” That’s followed by “Only My Opinion,” yet another strong track. “Maybe the sun won’t shine tomorrow/But that doesn’t mean my love will end.” The original album concludes with “Queen Of Paradise,” the only cover on it. It was written by Shade Smith and originally recorded by The Rumour. Both The Rumour and The Left Banke released this song as a single. This one has a definite 1970s pop feel, with disco elements.

Bonus Tracks

This re-issue contains six bonus tracks, recorded in 2001 and 2002, all of which were previously unreleased. The first is “Airborne,” the title now immediately calling to mind the pandemic. But of course that’s not what this is about, though it has the line “Where I can breathe.” This is a strangely beautiful song, complete with strings. “No one wants to understand/I’m climbing up the walls/You must try to see/This place is not for you/Or me anymore/Can’t we just be airborne.” That’s followed by “I Don’t Know,” a song that speaks to me right away, its opening lines being “I don’t know what I’m doing now/I don’t know what it’s all about/I don’t know how it’s going to sound.” This track features an excellent vocal performance supported by some wonderful work by Michael Brown on keys.

“Until The End” also features strings, and has a certain beauty. It was written by Michael Brown and Yvonne Vitale. “Until the end, until the end/I want to hold you until then.” That’s followed by “Buddy Steve (Long Lost Friend),” a wonderfully sad song. Check out these lines: “What is right and what is wrong/When you find that love is gone/Fading years pass with the dawn/And now is the fight of your life.” “Meet Me In The Moonlight” is a beautiful love song with some surprising lyrics: “I cried when the world died/But it’s better leaving it alone/Help me to live my life.” This is one of my favorite tracks. It was written by Michael Brown and Ian Lloyd. The disc then concludes with “High Flyer,” a moving song featuring good work on vocals and keyboards. “High flyer, she must never know/That you always loved her/Even when you cried alone/High flyer, the bells are ringing.”

CD Track List

  1. Strangers On A Train
  2. Heartbreaker
  3. Lorraine
  4. Yesterday’s Love
  5. Hold On Tight
  6. And One Day
  7. You Say
  8. I Can Fly
  9. Only My Opinion
  10. Queen Of Paradise
  11. Airborne
  12. I Don’t Know
  13. Until The End
  14. Buddy Steve (Long Lost Friend)
  15. Meet Me In The Moonlight
  16. High Flyer

This special expanded re-issue of Strangers On A Train is scheduled to be released on February 25, 2022 through Omnivore Recordings.

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