Billy Joel – She’s Got a Way – Love Songs (Columbia / Sony Legacy) review
New collection explores the singer’s lesser-known romantic side
Judging from the title, you’d think She’s Got a Way – Love Songs was just another “best of,” rehashing the same old Billy Joel tracks as before. There’s just one problem – Joel’s hits weren’t usually of the romantic variety (for starters, his two #1’s were “It’s Still Rock n’ Roll” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire”). True, the Rhodes piano-infused ballad “Just the Way You Are” was the song that put him on the map, climbing to #3 in 1977 and garnering a Grammy for Song of the Year. That song is here. So is “She’s Got a Way” and “An Innocent Man.” But those hits share the spotlight with some of Joel’s more underrappreciated work, making this an extremely enjoyable listen.
The disc opens with “Travelin’ Prayer,” side one, cut one of Joel’s breakthrough album Piano Man. The song is propelled by percussive brushes that sound like a train rumbling down the tracks. This early material sounds particularly bright – a vast improvement over older CDs. That’s followed by the moody “The Night is Still Young,” which was one of two new songs on his first-ever compilation Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2 back in 1985.
“She’s Got a Way,” which was originally released on Joel’s debut album Cold Spring Harbor, is included here in its far-superior live version from Songs in the Attic.
By skirting most of the hits, we get to hear some gems like “Temptation” from The Bridge, featuring some excellent sax work from Mark Rivera, or the gorgeous instrumental “Nocturne” from his debut LP.
It’s also interesting to hear a much-younger Joel on “You’re My Home,” where he still hadn’t quite found his signature singing style, accompanied by an unusual steel guitar. There are also songs that you’ll recognize, but may have forgotten, like the excellent “Honesty,” from 52nd Street, or “She’s Right on Time,” an album cut from the Nylon Curtain which did not chart, but had a rather humorous music video that got significant airplay on MTV. Then, there’s “Shameless,” which Garth Brooks redid, and famously took to the top of the country charts in 1991. The collection closes with the gentle “And So It Goes” from 1989’s Storm Front, which has a lullaby quality to it.
This collection also acts as a companion piece to The Hits, which came out in 2011 – there is no overlap between the two. If you grab both discs, you’ve got just about all the Billy Joel you’ll ever need.
Billy Joel’s music is everywhere. Yet, this collection does the impossible – by avoiding most of the tired old classics, it actually sounds fresh. By sprinkling in a few bona fide hits in with album cuts and lower charting singles, She’s Got a Way – Love Songs makes for a surprisingly enjoyable Billy Joel record. –Tony Peters