Picks and Pans Review: Retro Nuevo

updated 07/11/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/11/1988 01:00AM

Billy Vera & the Beaters

First names aren't the only thing Vera and Billy Joel have in common. They both blend an R&B soul with a rocker's heart and a pop star's head, then they toss a little shmaltz into the blend and come up with music that plays just about any place. Vera, at 43, is four years older than Joel and mellower by that much. This album, his first record of new material since the use of his At This Moment in an episode of Family Ties in 1985 gave a turbo boost to his career, includes a number of tunes that tend toward nostalgia and melancholy. Ronnie's Song, for instance, is about a former bandmate: "Well, I hear you got a wife and two little kids in school/And a little tract home and a little plastic pool/And you're both working day jobs from 9 to 5/Me, I sing in a band that's the local rage/And sometimes I'm seen with girls half my age." Vera's choices of composing partners bespeaks his eclectic tastes. Chip Taylor, with whom he wrote the affectingly sentimental La-La for What's Her Name, wrote Wild Thing (he's also Jon Voight's brother, for trivia fans). L. Russell Brown, who collaborated with Vera on If I Were a Magician, wrote Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree. Vera's voice has substance, and his style is full of quirky little twists of melody. His vocals are kicked along by his Beaters and a few add-ons, including drummer Jim Keltner and keyboardist Richard Tee. Some of the horn and string arrangements suggest the tacky tone associated with an Atlantic City lounge act, but the general tenor of things suggests a not-too-chic, just-bluesy-enough club in Kansas City or Chicago. (Capitol)

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