Billy Joel Billy Joel
Fantasies & Delusions
Performed by Richard Joo, Piano
(Sony Classical/Columbia)

Itís been eight years since Billy Joelís last studio album, River of Dreams, and his subsequent announcement that he would be retiring from "pop" music to work on something with a bit more substance. The result is finally here, and those who caught the hint of a classical promise in the piano strains of "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)" or in "The Stranger," will not be disappointed.

Fantasies & Delusions is an album of 10 Opuses, divided into 12 tracks ("Opus 8" has three parts). And Joel, the composer, stepped back from the piano for the recording of his work, asking, instead, a classical pianist, Richard Joo, to play his compositions. This will no doubt help "legitimize" his new work in classical circles, and probably brings an erudite feeling to these pieces that Joel, with his blue-collar pop piano history, might not otherwise have given them. Joel says his goal was to write in the style of the 19th century romantic era, and in keeping with the roots of "classic" classical, the album was recorded in Vienna on a Steinway grand piano.

But is it good?

Iím not a reviewer or frequent listener of classical music, so I canít make comparisons of Joelís work to other respected classical composers. I can say that this is an enjoyable album to put on for introspective listening. In many ways, this album proves that Joel is our generationís Gershwin Ė a composer able to write both instantly catchy pop tunes as well as deeper, more complex variations on a theme. These pieces are filled with emotion, and occasionally tread across the sorts of melancholy beauty and Americana-influenced melodies that "Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)" displayed, sans voice and other instruments.

"Opus 3. Reverie (Villa DíEste)" opens the CD with a mix of trilling piano runs and stop-start tango passages that demonstrate quickly that Joel has the chops to work as a classical composer. "Opus 5. Waltz #2 (Steinway Hall)" is reflective, yet, features a wealth of quick, building scale passages and "Opus 4. Fantasy (Film Noir)" offers heavier chording and dramatic passages of both heavy and lilting melodies. And the final track, "Opus 10. Air (Dublinesque)" uses variations of themes heís previously played in pop songs like "And So It Goes" and "The Legend of Billy The Kid."

To these ears, Fantasies & Delusions is a rich exploration of the power and subtlety of the piano.

But it also left this listener hoping that A) it doesnít take another eight years before his next release and B) that Joel doesnít retire all of his other talents and instruments permanently. Listening to "And So It Goes" and "Lullabye" to hear how they foreshadowed the work of Fantasies & Delusions, I was struck by the plaintive beauty that Joelís voice can display. It would be a shame for the world to lose that instrument completely in favor of his solo piano. Hopefully Joelís next explorations will continue to allow him to develop his classical leanings, but perhaps with fuller orchestration (some of these piano pieces would sound bigger and more impressive with string backups) and the occasional sad vocal refrain. The piano, after all, is only one color of this brilliant American composerís spectrum of talents.


Serendipity New On The Shelves

Sony Music Soundtrax has released the romantic soundtrack to the new John Cusack movie, Serendipity. The disc features an eclectic mix of artists (lots of non-household names) and plenty of warm, mellow melodies. It includes a beautiful guitar instrumental from David Gray ("January Rain,") Annie Lennoxís cover of Bob Marleyís "Waiting In Vain" (from her 1995 Medusa album), Evan and Jaronís slow building "The Distance" (a different version appeared on their self titled debut album of last year which spawned their hit "Crazy For This Girl") and the Celtic folk-influenced "Northern Sky" from Nick Drakeís 1994 album Way to Blue. Heather Nova checks in with a lilting new anthem in "Like Lovers Do," Shawn Colvin offers a new gentle ballad in "When You Know" and Brian Whitman updates the classic Burt Bacharach/Hal David hit "(Thereís) Always Something There To Remind Me," with more of a guitar flair than the Naked Eyes hit version of the Ď80s. The disc also includes tracks from Wood, Bap Kennedy, Louis Armstrong, Chantal Kreviazuk, John Mayer and the orchestral theme from Alan Silvestri.