Monday, July 24, 2006

Billy Joel: 12 Gardens Live

Written by Hombre Divertido

One always takes a risk when purchasing a CD of a live performance. You can’t be sure of the quality of the recording or the performance. The artist may be a superior studio performer but may not translate well to a live setting. The artist may have been playing the same songs for years, and has now decided to tweak them, which often disappoints the audience. Luckily, Billy Joel’s new effort suffers very little from any of these potential sales killers.

Recorded live at Madison Square Garden this new two-disc set delivers over and over again. With a total of 30 songs, there is something in this set for everyone, as Mr. Joel still manages to exude the energy of an angry young man, belting out hit after hit.

When one listens to these classics, you can’t help but be impressed by the career longevity of Joel, who wrote all of the songs. Another challenge of a live recording can be the audience, but the sound mix is excellent here as we are treated to the energy of the crowd without detracting from the quality of the performance.

Joel is backed up quite capably by a talented group of performers who make a strong effort to allow him to be the focus. They are Crystal Tallefero (vocals, guitar); Andy Cicon (vocals, bass guitar); Tommy Byrnes (guitar); Mark Rivera (saxophone, keyboards); Richie Cannata (saxophone); Carl Fischer (trumpet, trombone); David Rosenthal (piano, organ, keyboards).

There are a few bumps in the road, as in “The Night is Still Young” where Joel’s vocals are combined in a duet with Taleifero that does not quite work, and the second disc ends with an unlisted 31st song which is a weak, or maybe just a tired, Joel closing out with “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” That ending might leave some disappointed, but there is too much quality here in both musical genius and memories to allow anything to distract from the overall performance.

Recommendation: Make sure you see Billy Joel's next concert, and get a hold of this effort until you do.