CD Review: Billy Joel, Piano Man (Legacy Edition)

I am a huge Billy Joel fan. Or I was. I was rabid for the Piano Man's music all the way from my early single digits to high school. During college, I began to explore the alt rock explosion of the '90s and gradually and inadvertently weaned myself from the Piano Man. But even though I haven't belted out one of his tunes at the top of my voice in my car in a while, my love for Billy still runs deep. This is why I as excited when I was provided a copy of the reissue of Billy Joel's seminal album Piano Man (Legacy Edition) to review for Culture Brats.

Piano Man is an energetic and sometimes raw album featuring a young singer experimenting with his sound and his voice. Here Joel plays with gospel, jazz and even classical on the album while honing his signature pop piano style. Billy Joel has always been a storyteller as well as a singer and Piano Man contains three epic story songs: the western themed "Ballad Of Billy The Kid," "Captain Jack," and arguably his biggest hit and best known song, "Piano Man."

Along with the remastered original album, Piano Man (Legacy Edition) comes with the never before released performance that launched Joel's career.

Billy Joel’s first album was a disaster. Sometime after its release, while Billy Joel was famously slaving away in dive piano bars, he recorded a live session for a Philadelphia radio station. The standout was a haunting, energetic performance of "Captain Jack." In the wake of the session, the radio station started to play "Captain Jack," which became a big enough hit to get Joel signed to a major label. The result of this was the Piano Man album and the start of an astonishing career that has endured for decades.

It was the "mythic" Sigma Sound Studios performance that had me the most interested. Recorded in 1972, a young Joel seems both cocky and nervous, awkwardly playing up to the handful of people in the room. But it’s when the music starts that Joel truly shines. His talented piano playing is crisp and his band is tight. The songs are raw and vigorous, showing a range of Joel’s musical styles and influences. Three of the tracks have never been released on an album. As a long-time fan, it was a thrill to hear new music after all of these years.

It's truly a treat that this show has been unearthed, remastered, and released. It reminds me not only how talented Billy Joel is, but how much I love his music. Once again, I was singing in my car at the top of my voice.

Billy Joel Piano Man (Legacy Edition) is available now.

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