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CD Reviews - Billy Joel
Billy Joel: 12 Gardens Live
July 2006
By: Linda Spielman
album cover of Billy Joel's 12 Gardens Live

Homecoming concerts are great for any performer. When it comes to New York City's favorite hometown legend, Billy Joel, his concerts aren't so much that of a homecoming, but more like a "hey how you doin', it's been awhile." And, indeed, New York's native son never disappoints with his live shows. The piano man rides again with his latest, double-disc release 12 Gardens Live. Joel is one of true gems when it comes to performing. With this CD, one need not necessarily have been at Madison Square Garden to truly appreciate Joel's past and present hits performed live.

Joel is like a fine wine of music--- he just gets better with age. The thirty songs included on these CDs are a testament to his lyrics, music, talent and the "average joe's" way of telling stories. Joel is older and wiser, but still the same enthusiastic, crazy man on the piano as he was thirty years ago. What I truly enjoyed about this CD is the lack of over the top arrangements on the songs. There were no over-extended piano parts on such tunes as The Entertainer and We Didn't Start The Fire. Much to my pleasure, Joel held true to much of the original arrangement and soul of one of my favorite tracks, The Downeaster Alexa. It may not have been a chart-topper like many of Joel's previous efforts, but in my opinion is one of his best lyrical treasures that he has shared with the public.

The CD feels as fast paced as if you were experiencing the show at Madison Square Garden yourself. The audience's acceptance of Joel is clearly evident and reflects how now, as in his early days of playing the bar circuit, he can wow crowds with his down to earth stage presence and amazing piano playing. With many live CDs, there is a tendency to incorporate almost all of the concert--- the talking and connecting with the crowd, the long drawn out stories about how songs came into existence and sometimes boring solos by all members of the band. To its credit, this CD lacks a lot of that and is full throttle Billy Joel at his finest.

The placement of the tracks between the two CDs is well thought out. If this were the original set list from the show, unedited for production, it's truly a testament to Joel and his production team. A majority of Joel's hits are well balanced throughout 12 Gardens Live with each telling its own story. However, the combination of She's Only A Woman, Keeping The Faith, and The River of Dreams seems to flow effortlessly into one another to create one musical, seductive story. Joel writes from the average person's point of view and has a flair for incorporating the trials and joys of daily life and love into his songs.

These CDs are a definite must for any Billy Joel fan. Although his greatest hits CD best reflects his work, there is nothing like having a captivating live CD that fans can enjoy over and over. Billy Joel will always be "The Entertainer" and 12 Gardens Live is just that.