Friday, October 11, 2013

Fair Concert Recordings: 12 Gardens Live Succeeds In An Unremarkable Way For Billy Joel!

The Good: Decent mix of pretty wonderful songs, Lyrics
The Bad: No extraordinary reinterpretations, “Live” conceits.
The Basics: Other than hearing more mature vocals from Billy Joel, 12 Gardens Live offers fans little they have not heard already.

As I continue through my exploration of the music of Billy Joel, I find myself encountering the inevitable live album. In the case of Billy Joel, my “live” experience with Joel is his 2-album set, 12 Gardens Live. Listening to 12 Gardens Live was a positively mixed experience for me. My brother has seen Joel live in concert, I have not, but my brother never really raved about his concert experience. After months of getting in and listening to Billy Joel albums, 12 Gardens Live appeared on my doorstep as, essentially, a “best of Billy Joel live” album.

While not nearly as bad as Oasis’s Familiar To Millions (reviewed here!), 12 Gardens Live never rises to the level of a work like Janis Ian’s Live: Working Without A Net (reviewed here!) that accurately recreated a concert experience without having a forced feeling. Making a “live” album sound both true to a live experience and effortless is a tough balance and Billy Joel does not quite land it with 12 Gardens Live. That said, there are benefits to 12 Gardens Live that are absent from a typical “best of” album; for example, 12 Gardens Live features an older Billy Joel, one who has a lower, more mature voice. As a result, there is a thrill to hearing songs like “An Innocent Man,” “My Life,” and “The Entertainer” in a lower register.

Still, 12 Gardens Live is a tougher sell than it ought to be. The two-disc set features thirty songs and actually makes decent use of the compact disc medium. With two discs, each with fifteen tracks, clocking out at 75:26 and 77:31, respectively, listeners get their money’s worth out of 12 Gardens Live. Unfortunately, it is also loaded – on the second disc more than the first – with crowd noises. The crowd noises are an annoying conceit of live albums. It is easy to tell from the changes of pace and different vocals that 12 Gardens Live is a live album, without the engineered crescendos and fades of the crowd.

12 Gardens Live represents a very true exploration of the long musical career of Billy Joel. The songs are all written by Joel and he provides the lead vocals on each and every track. As well, he plays pianos on the songs and he even co-produced the album.

While the album might lack a strong x-factor or any original tracks (or delightful covers of other people’s works which might delight the fans), 12 Gardens Live is a good mix of songs from all across the career of Billy Joel. In addition to classic favorites like “New York State Of Mind” and “She’s Always A Woman,” newer hits like “River Of Dreams” and “We Didn’t Start The Fire” are included on 12 Gardens Live. In fact, of the big hits, the only notably absent Billy Joel song missing from 12 Gardens Live is “Uptown Girl” (“It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” is on the second disc as a final, hidden, track).

The only other real detraction (outside the crowd noises and lack of any original material) to 12 Gardens Live is that none of the live interpretations of Joel’s songs are radically reinterpreted in any significant way. Instead, 12 Gardens Live seems to affirm that Billy Joel presented his songs originally the way he wanted them.

And that’s fine. Billy Joel is a wonderful songwriter and his performance on 12 Gardens Live is energetic and entertaining and well worth listening to, but for those who love the radio hits of Billy Joel (which is pretty much all this album consists of), the crowd noises are distracting and the reinterpretations are hardly significant enough to make it a part of one’s permanent collection.

For other Billy Joel reviews, please check out:
Piano Man
52nd Street
Glass Houses
The Nylon Curtain
An Innocent Man
Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II
River Of Dreams


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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