The Left Banke

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Walk Away Renée / Pretty BallerinaWalk Away Renée / Pretty Ballerina (1967)

Halfway through this, I started to develop an unlikely comparison for these would-be conservatory denizens: The Byrds. Sure, they turn to the Continent for exquisite counterpoint instead of seeking fulfillment in the pastoral, but the harmonies (and frequently, guitars) mine the same shimmering blades of glass as the West Coast folkies. Rough-hewn edges only add to the appeal, too, as violins and harpsichords take on a more aggressive quality alongside rock-ier vocals (“Evening Gown”).

Once “What Do You Know”‘s country trot came along, my theory seemed set. Unfortunately, that forgettable diversion portended further support, with subsequent tracks getting lost in the same underdeveloped melodies and general aimlessness that can make McGuinn’s outfit so frustrating. In those cases, the instrumentation is usually memorable enough to get by on, but considering the album starts with something as beautiful as “Pretty Ballerina”, “lost classic” seems more like a missed opportunity than an accurate descriptor.

Still, this would make a top-notch EP.


The Left Banke TooThe Left Banke Too (1968)

It’s not only the style change that points to a personnel shakeup. Without Brown’s delicate pen, the already overstuffed arrangements sap any chance of beauty from the gentler tracks (“Dark Is the Bark”), and he would never be clumsy enough to stack straight-eights over swing rhythms so carelessly.

When their songs aren’t outstripped by orchestral bustle and a thinning sound, though, this trio performs well: period-perfect, Beatles-esque pop with just enough sunshine mixed in to make the psych bubble.



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