While the rise of folk-rock acts like the Byrds and the Lovin' Spoonful brought 12-string guitars and autoharps into the rock & roll vocabulary, and the Beatles' "Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby" opened the door for a more artful use of strings in pop music, the Left Banke pioneered something new with their debut single, 1967's "Walk Away Renee," which incorporated a small string section, harpsichord, and woodwinds to give the song a light yet dramatic Baroque flavor that was unique in rock at the time, and a perfect complement to the song's bittersweet tale of unrequited love. The Left Banke's follow-up, "Pretty Ballerina," was even more striking, and while the group started to fall apart almost as soon as they achieved success, their debut album, named for the two hit singles, was one of the best LPs released in a year full of innovation in pop music. Michael Brown, the group's keyboard player, wrote most of the songs, and with producer and arranger Henry Lookofsky (who was also Brown's father) he helped brainstorm the unusual sound of the Left Banke's material, but vocalist Steve Martin-Caro also played a major role in these sessions; his vocals, which could go from the wistful "Barterers and Their Wives" to the full-on rock shouting of "Lazy Day" at the drop of a hat, are impressive, and he helped write three of the album's best songs, "She May Call You Up Tonight" and "I Haven't Got the Nerve," and "Shadows Breaking Over My Head." Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina is hardly unusual for a rock album of the era in that most of the tracks were dominated by session musicians rather than actual bandmembers, and in many respects, this album was a triumph for the producers and arrangers (among them Steve Jerome and John Abbott, along with Lookofsky) as much as the band, but they also gave this LP a remarkably diverse feel, from the Baroque sound of the hit singles and the formal-dress psychedelia of "Shadows Breaking Over My Head," to the country-rock accents of "What Do You Know," and the straightforward rock of "Lazy Day" and "Evening Down." If the Left Banke's moment of stardom was fleeting, Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina reveals, for a brief and exciting moment, they were one of the best and most innovative American bands in rock & roll.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming