The Keys to Billy Joel
is the first in a series of Tribute
albums by pianist/composer/arranger Cory Reese. Devoting an entire album to the work of another composer is the ultimate compliment from a musician, and Reese has obviously put heart and soul into his interpretations of Billy Joel’s work. Most of the ten songs are classics from Joel’s oeuvre, giving listeners the opportunity to focus on the melodies without lyrics and illustrating just how strong Joel’s melodies are. In addition to Cory Reese on piano and keyboards, the CD features Ted Jensen on percussion, Sam Payne on harmonica, and Dennis Zwang on woodwinds. This is definitely a piano album, and the additional instruments are mostly for added color and style. Although the songs are distinctive, the mood and pace of the album is pretty consistent, allowing for satisfying active listening as well as great background music. Reese keeps the songs pretty straightforward without a lot of flash or embellishment, so if you like the songs “just the way they are,” you’re in luck!
The tribute opens with “She’s Always a Woman.” I love the haunting intro to this song. For the first 35 seconds of the piece, I had no idea which song it was, but it the intro fits the song perfectly. The flowing piano arrangement is accompanied by keyboard washes that bring out the poignance of the song. “New York State of Mind” is a piano and sax duet that creates a dreamy ambiance. No tribute to Billy Joel would be complete without is signature “Piano Man,” the song that launched his career. Piano and harmonica emphasize the bittersweet nature of the song - a great sing-along if you can remember all of the words! “Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)” is one of my favorite Billy Joel songs, and Reese does a really nice job with the tender love song from a parent to a cherished child. “Just the Way You Are” is another song that could not be left off of a tribute. Sax and piano make the melody sing. “Honesty” was another huge hit for Joel, and is presented here as a piano solo, earnest and sincere. Reese tames the energy of “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” making it more of a ballad. “And So It Goes” closes the CD on a wistful, graceful note. The beautiful piano solo carries all the emotional impact of the original and is a perfect end to this tribute to one of the musical superstars of our time.
Cory Reese’s arrangements may be a little too straightforward for ears looking for a completely new take on Billy Joel’s music, but if you like arrangements that stay close to the original songs, this CD will be a delight. It is available from coryreese.com