Review Summary: Standouts might be in short supply, but Cold Spring Harbor accomplishes just what it should as a debut album.
Fame might have come fast for pianist Billy Joel in the early to mid 1970's. But before becoming a household name, he was with short-lived acts The Hassles and Attila. Soon after performing in these groups, he began recording for his first solo album, Cold Spring Harbor
. A young but promising vocalist with great piano-playing talent to boot was about to make his first step towards worldwide acclaim and popularity. And thus the Piano Man's true career begins.
During the album's mastering process, however, songs were slightly sped up, resulting in an overall higher pitch (most noticeably in Joel's voice). By 1983, a re-release of the album fixed the speed issue, but at the expense of a few minutes of the original runtime. Due to the 1971 release being given only a few prints, it's become a much sought-after piece by William Martin Joel's most dedicated fans. As a result, the re-mixed version remains the only readily-available copy and will be the version this review applies to.
Cold Spring Harbor
is a fairly brief LP release, even by what would come to be expected from Joel's subsequent albums. Given that this is a debut originally from the early 70's, however, the short runtime isn't much of a concern. If anything, this makes the album a bit more approachable, which would come to be one of Joel's frequently exhibited strong points. Almost every song on the re-release is (just short of) three minutes with the longest being "You Look So Good To Me," clocking in at around four and a half minutes. While this results in the album feeling more like a stepping stone (which it is), this also means that both the songs and the album say what they have to without going overboard. Brief simplicity is the name of the game.
Fortunately, the sound works around the average song length thanks to mostly slow, but mildly upbeat tracks. Nothing's necessarily commanding aside from the occasionally fast and brief piano intro. Even the sole instrumental inclusion, "Nocturne," is fairly relaxing while mostly showing what Joel's music is like without the voice. Elaboration is in short supply. Though this isn't something that might immediately come to-mind when describing Joel's music, the songs do seem to end rather abruptly. Everything is straightforward and clear-cut, even by the standards his subsequent works would come to be described as. The fundamentals, namely Joel's voice and piano-playing, are all the album really has to help it stand out. And though neither are eye-popping here, it isn't without enjoyment.
The Piano Man's debut is one of those pieces that can be argued as not having anything that's necessarily wrong. Conversely, it doesn't step up to push anything forward either. And frankly, a debut only has to promise the listener that there's something worthwhile in the band/artist, and Cold Spring Harbor
accomplishes this with ease. Both casual and dedicated music listeners will get a brief but satisfying set of songs that alternate between easy-going and fun, effortlessly.