An accomplished songsmith and R&B crooner, Billy Vera duetted with underrated soul singer Judy Clay on the minor Atlantic hit Storybook Children in 1968 and penned modest hits for both Rick Nelson and Barbara Lewis earlier in the decade, but it wasn’t until the popular TV Show Family Ties used Vera and the Beaters’ melancholy ballad “At This Moment” on a 1986 episode, five years after it was recorded, that he finally got his big break. Culling from their two albums (including three unreleased numbers from a third project, which had been shelved—and judging by these sugary ballads, rightly so), they cut Hopeless Romantic: The Best of Billy Vera and the Beaters in 1981 for the now defunct Alfa Records. A comprehensive overview, it showcases the guys at their short-lived soul-pop peak. Always best heard live, the standouts here all come, apart for the achingly beautiful “Hopeless Romantic” produced by Jerry Wexler at Muscle Shoals, from their first album Billy and the Beaters. Recorded at the Roxy on Sunset Strip, the nightly sessions delivered up the original live version of “At This Moment” as well as the carousing funky “Corner of the Night”, the excellent bluesy high life of “Strange Things Happening”, and the chugging country of “Millie, Make Some Chilli”, swept along by a swinging four-piece horn section with breakout piano and twanging steel guitar accompaniment. Sadly, the remaining songs, a mixed bag of easy-going loungy ballads, only serve to emphasise how Vera and the band’s charismatic live performances never quite managed to ignite in a studio setting.
// Notes from the Road
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