The Left Banke burst onto the scene in 1966 with the exquisite single "Walk Away Renee." A No. 5 Pop hit, it was subsequently covered by the likes of The Four Tops, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Carmen, and Frankie Valli while remaining an oldies radio staple. Though the band only notched one more top 20 hit, the delicate "Pretty Ballerina," their two original albums on the Smash label established The Left Banke as progenitors of the baroque pop sound. Primary songwriter/keyboardist Michael Brown left the band before their sophomore album, leaving lead singer Steve Martin Caro, bassist Tom Finn, and drummer George Cameron to press on. There were various comings and goings (including a Brown/Caro reunion single late in 1969, and a full reunion in 1971 for a Caro solo single) but The Left Banke was effectively over as the 1970s dawned. In 1978, Steve Martin Caro, Tom Finn, and George Cameron reformed The Left Banke, though the tracks wouldn't emerge until 1986 as Strangers on a Train (in the U.S.) and Voices Calling (in the U.K.). On February 25, an expanded edition of that all-but-lost album will return to CD from Omnivore Recordings.
Michael Brown, who had moved on to other bands including Montage, Stories ("Brother Louie"), and The Beckies, was only peripherally involved with the 1978 recordings. Adding to the band's mystique, he reportedly contributed some instrumentation to the earliest songs recorded during the sessions but if he did participate, he ultimately was uncredited. The Caro/Finn/Cameron sessions, produced by Joe Ferla (Roberta Flack, Stephen Bishop), resulted from Finn's new publishing deal. Upon the completion of recording, Finn and Cameron reportedly regarded the material in the vein of demos rather than finished works. One single, "Queen of Paradise" b/w "And One Day," was released on the Camerica label, but the rest of the songs was shelved until the 1986 release on Relix Records in the United States and Bam-Caruso in the United Kingdom. The album was never released on CD.
Omnivore's reissue presents the original 10-track album with six additional cuts from much later. In 2001, Michael Brown invited Steve Martin Caro to join him to record new material intended for The Left Banke. While the recordings were privately circulated, they've never seen commercial release until now.
A reconstituted Left Banke toured intermittently through 2015; Tom Finn and George Cameron anchored the group that began touring in 2011. Michael Brown made a couple of guest appearances with this lineup, performing "Pretty Ballerina" at a 2012 show and "Walk Away Renee" in 2013. Finn departed the Left Banke in 2013, and Brown passed away in 2015 - the same year Steve Martin Caro rejoined the group. George Cameron also played with The Left Banke for the last time in 2015. In 2018, Cameron and Caro announced they were planning a tour, but plans were sadly curtailed by Cameron's death in June. Today, all of the Left Banke is gone: Caro and Finn both died in 2020.
Omnivore's reissue of Strangers on a Train explores the beautiful, if somewhat convoluted, legacy of this pioneering pop band. It's been produced for release by Daniel Coston, Scott Schinder, and Cheryl Pawelski, with liner notes by Schinder and restoration and mastering by Michael Graves at Osiris Studio. Look for it on February 25.
- Strangers On A Train
- Yesterday's Love
- Hold On Tight
- And One Day
- You Say
- I Can Fly
- Only My Opinion
- Queen Of Paradise
- I Don't Know (2002 Version)
- Until The End
- Buddy Steve (Long Lost Friend)
- Meet Me In The Moonlight
- High Flyer