I am sure that the vast majority of my readers know this song. I thought I did. Walk Away Renee is a late 60s pop classic, in the same vein as California Dreamin’. And that is not a random comparison; The Left Banke, (not much more than the answer to a trivia question these days), were indeed inspired in part by the famous Mamas and the Papas hit. I had always regarded both as disposable pop from a period that produced much better music.
But the two versions presented here made me reevaluate Walk Away Renee. The best covers can do that. Stripping away the dated production of the original, these spare arrangements laid bare the ache of the lyric.
Peppino D‘Agostino (featuring David Wilcox): Walk Away Renee
“New Age music” has always been a double-edged sword of a marketing label. In the 1980s, when Peppino D’Agostino came on the scene, it was a useful way to promote sales for artists whose music was mostly acoustic, and whose influences encompassed world music, folk, jazz, and pop, while not fitting neatly into any one of these. But the “New Age” label quickly came to mean that these varying influences had been blended together into a mush and bleached of all emotion. Peppino D’Agostino is an acoustic guitar player whose music combines many of these influences, but the result is innovative and heartfelt. It is no accident that D’Agostino was able to get David Wilcox to sing on his version of Walk Away Renee.
Guitar and voice dominate the arrangement. What other instruments there are add color from far in the background of the mix. This puts the lyrics at center stage. The performances of D’Agostino and Wilcox have a quiet intensity the brings out the loneliness and yearning of the song.
Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy: Walk Away Renee
In her recent work, Linda Ronstadt has tried on various musical styles. Starting with her orchestral albums with Nelson Riddle, and continuing into explorations of Mexican music and acoustic country, Ronstadt has shown remarkable stylistic range, while approaching each project with sincerity and dedication. For the album Adieu False Heart, Ronstadt teamed with Ann Savoy for a set of Cajun treatments of songs from various genres. The term quiet intensity applies to their version of Walk Away Renee. They cannot intertwine guitar and voice as D’Agostino and Wilcox do, but their vocal harmonies, as well as some delicious embellishments from fiddle and accordion, emphasize the beauty of the melody as well as the emotion of the piece.