City Streets 45 by Carole King

May 24, 2012

“City Streets” is about as hard as Carole King rocks. The single was taken from her 1989 album of the same name and while it did not reach the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart, it did become a top 20 Adult Contemporary hit.

The highlight of the release was the video. While the big hair may be a thing of the past; the guitar play by Eric Clapton is one for the ages. His solo at the end of the video is just about the perfect guitar sound and one of the reasons the “Clapton is God” saying caught on.

Play the video, wait for it, and enjoy.

Jazzman by Carole King

December 17, 2011

Carole King will always be tied to her album TAPESTRY, which topped the American album charts for 15 weeks and has sold 25 million copies worldwide.

One of the better songs of her career, outside of TAPESTRY, was the single “Jazzman.” Released August 31, 1974, it reached number number two on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

It had a little more bite than her usual laid back material. It remains notable for the lenghty Tom Scott sax solo which provides the foundation for King’s vocal. It remains one of the better performances of her distinguished career.

The Living Room Tour by Carole King

November 9, 2011

Stop in for a cup of coffee and a scone at Starbucks and grab the new Carole King album at the same time. At least that was the scenario back in 2005 when Carole King cut a deal with the coffee giant to sell her newest album in their stores. There must have been a lot of Carole King fans who drank coffee as The Living Room Tour became her most commercially successful album in several decades, reaching number 17 on the Billboard Magazine Pop Album Chart, while selling over 300,000 copies.

In addition to the marketing campaign, the album itself was a good idea. It was a stripped down and intimate live album on which she played the piano, guitar, and sang with only guitarists/bassists Rudy Guess and Gary Burr providing additional instrumental support. Her two daughters, Louise and Sherry, added vocals on two of the songs. It all added up to the focus being squarely on her music, which is as it should be with her work.

She relied heavily on her Tapestry material for the foundation of the album. Plus, King reached back into her vast catalogue of older compositions for more material, and finally included a few surprises to fill out the album, which comprises 21 tracks spread out over two discs.

It is always interesting to hear her interpret her own compositions that had been made famous by other artists. She gets at the essence of such classic songs as “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “The Locomotion,” and “Chains.” Her medley of “Take Good Care Of My Baby”/”It Might As Well Rain Until September”/”Go Away Little Girl”/”I’m Into Something Good”/”Hey Girl”/”One Fine Day”/”Will You Love Me Tomorrow” flows from one song to the next as she takes the listener on a simple but modernized ride through some of the better pop music of the 1960s.

Some of her biggest hits and well-known songs, “It’s Too Late,” “I Feel The Earth Move,” “Smackwater Jack,” “Jazzman,” and “You’ve Got A Friend” are brought back to life in an intimate setting. The lyrics are some of the best in American music and her live renditions give the songs different textures and nuances than the studio recordings.

One of the surprises was the inclusion of the old Monkees hit, “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” which she composed with former husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin. It ceased to be a lightweight pop song as she gives the lyrics a new feel. Her inclusion of some of her lesser known material, “Peace In The Valley,” “Being At War With Each Other,” and “Wishful Thinking” demonstrate that even her obscure material can shine when presented with passion and emotion.

The Living Room Tour was a good idea, both artistically and commercially, as it brought many of her songs full circle. It proved that a good song is always a good song when performed by Carole King.

Article first published as Music Review: Carole King – The Living Room Tour on Blogcritics.

Love Makes The World by Carole King

November 6, 2011

It had been eight years since her last studio album when Carole King released Love Makes The World on September 21, 2001. The album was then reissued in 2007 as a Deluxe Edition with bonus tracks and accompanying videos.

King was in fine form for her first album of the 21st century. Her voice sounded better than it had in a number of years plus her phrasing was some of the best of her career.

She used a variety of co-writers with some of the songs being written by up to four people. She only wrote two of the tracks herself, but in spite of that the material fits together well. She seemed more focused here than on many of her post-classic-period releases in songs for the most part dealing with relationships, both good and bad. I would have preferred a little less synthesizer and drum programming but overall it was a very good modern work.

The album features two outstanding tracks surrounded by a number of very good ones. “Monday Without You” was co-written by King but originally recorded in 1997 by Carnie, Wendy, and Brian Wilson for their album, The Wilsons. King makes it into a ringing rock anthem with a building, memorable chorus. The other stellar track is the old Goffin/King tune, “Oh No, Not My Baby,” which was written back in 1964. At first it seemed like an odd choice as it had appeared on her 1980 album, Pearls: Songs of Goffin And King. Using a piano and acoustic bass as its foundation, she modernized the song by changing the tempo and providing a more of a soulful vocal.

A number of other well-crafted tracks also inhabit the album. “The Reason,” originally recorded by Celine Dion for her Let’s Talk About Love album (for which King even provided the background vocals) is rendered here as a slow ballad that builds to a rocking conclusion. Dion returns the favor by providing the background vocals. The title track and “You Can Do Anything” are both upbeat, joyous tunes and “An Uncommon Love,” with help from k.d. lang is also worth a listen.

Love Makes The World is a well-thought-out and produced album, and with its memorable melodies and lyrics it stands as one of King’s better latter-day releases.

Article first published as Music Review: Carole King – Love Makes The World on Blogcritics.

Colour Of Your Dreams by Carole King

November 3, 2011

Carole King released 13 studio albums between 1970 and 1983, but as the ’80s gave way to the ’90s, her time in the recording studio diminished dramatically. 1993’s Colour of Your Dreams marked only her second studio album in a decade.

She had a tough act to follow, though, as her previous album, 1989’s City Streets, was one of the better releases of her career. While Colour of Your Dreams did not match those standards – it lacked some of the excitement of its predecessor, and its songs also didn’t fit together as well – it was nevertheless an impeccably produced, polished, and mature effort. The synthesizers are still present but they no longer dominate the sound. The music has an acoustic nature to it that harkens back to King’s early solo days.

The roster of musicians was shorter than on many of her other releases, which in general is a good sign for a Carole King album. Lead guitarist Slash and drummer Danny Carey provide omnipresent guest-star appearances. Rudy Guess returned once again as co-producer, having done such a credible job on City Streets. King wrote nine of the 11 album’s tracks, with the final two being collaborative efforts with ex-husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin.

King originally wrote “Now and Forever” for the film A League Of Their Own. Adding it to this album proved a wise decision as the song, with its upbeat beauty, is one of the its superior tracks; it went on to earn a Grammy nomination .

As on her previous album, King also added a couple of rockers. “Hold Out For Love” is a nice rocking diversion from her usual style, while “Standing In The Rain” is slower yet it rocks in the same style. Some of the lyrics had more bite than on much of her previous work. “Standing In The Rain,” for instance, is a solemn song of a victim looking at life. The socially conscious “Tears Falling Down On Me” deals with the topics of rape and racism. Another outstanding track, “Friday’s Tie-Dye Night Mare” addresses certain realities of the world. Another nice addition, “Just One Thing” returned King to a confessional, singer/songwriter mode.

Colour of Your Dreams made for a confident and, at times, personal album. It’s also preachy in places. Overall it contains some very good performances and remains a nice, middling effort in her large catalogue.

Article first published as Music Review: Carole King – Colour of Your Dreams on Blogcritics.

City Streets by Carole King

November 1, 2011

City Streets was yet another commercial dud for Carole King at the time of its release in 1989, which was unfortunate, as it was her best studio album of the last 30 years.

King had returned to the recording studio after a six-year absence with the likes of Eric Clapton, Max Weinberg, Michael Brecker, and Branford Marsalis in tow. The ’80s synthesizer sound was under control unlike on her last studio album, Speeding Time. Rudy Guess, who would later support her as a guitarist, co-produced the release along with her. They proved to be a good match as what emerged was an album of modern, melodic, catchy and lyrical music.

The highlight is the title track, a Top 20 hit on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart, and a ringing rock song with Eric Clapton providing its guitar solos and Michael Brecker on the saxophone. This may not be Clapton’s best solo but the tone of his guitar playing on the song’s closing solo is perfect. It has to be the way he bends the strings, as the sound he produces just does not get any better. Even the video, which is over 20 years old now, remains enchanting (even with King’s big hair) as Clapton puts on a show at the end.

Eight of the album’s 10 tracks were over four minutes in length with three clocking in at around five minutes. These extended tracks gave King the time to develop her music and tell her stories, which only heightened the listening experience.

“Ain’t That The Way” is a bluesy, slower tune and the second of two tracks on which Clapton provides guitar support. “Midnight Flyer,” written with former husband and writing partner, Gerry Goffin, is an uptempo, hook-laden rocker. “Homeless Heart,” on which she shares the vocals with daughter Sherry Goffin, makes you ache as she adds some sensitive piano work. While ”Down In The Darkness” features King delivering an especially soulful vocal. The combination of ballads and rockers adds to the overall pleasure as they complement each other and never let the album drag.

City Streets remains a positive effort, both musically and lyrically. It also remains Carole King’s best effort of the last three decades, and is well worth tracking down. It holds many pleasant surprises.

Article first published as Music Review: Carole King – City Streets on Blogcritics.

Speeding Time by Carole King

October 31, 2011

Lou Adler had produced six albums for Carole King, 1971’s Tapestry through 1976’s Thoroughbred. After four somewhat lackluster albums saleswise, he hoped to return her to the huge commercial success of her past.

Adler’s vision was to update and modernize her sound. It was the 1980s, and that meant synthesizers. King’s best work always centered on her voice interpreting her lyrics and music, and anything removing the focus from those strengths reduced the effectiveness and enjoyment of listening to her music. The album’s personnel reflected this new direction, as King was listed as a synthesizer player in addition to vocals and her usual piano virtuosity. Robbie Kondor was also listed as a synthesizer musician and Rob Meurer as synthesizer programmer. In the end it didn’t matter commercially as it was her first album not to chart in the United States.

After listening to the album several times during the last couple of days, it is better than I remembered. Maybe time has made it more appealing, but some of the songs are worth revisiting once in a while. It was by no means one of her better efforts, but it was not as bad as its lack of success at the time would indicate.

Side one of the original vinyl release contained three credible performances. Her remake of her 1961 composition (co-written with Howard Greenfield) “Crying In The Rain,” which was a big hit for The Everly Brothers, was a good example of an old hit being updated. The synthesizer shares the stage with Danny Kortchmar’s guitar and Plas Johnson’s sax work. The tempo is different, and it all added up to a nice re-interpretation of an old classic. “Sacred Heart Of Stone” has too many synthesizers, but the vocal and lyrics save the song. The title track has a classic Goffin/King melody and the chorus enhanced the lyrics. The only real downer was the lead track,“Computer Eyes,” where the keyboards go a little overboard, which unfortunately spoiled a fairly good song.
Side two is overall less successful. The best track was the five minute “So Ready For Love,” which found King back at her acoustic piano. The album closer “Alabaster Lady” is another longer track and is also worth a listen.

The album was an experiment that was not appreciated by the music-buying public of the day. There is some good music to be found here, but much of it suffers from 1980s overindulgence. While it’s not essential to the Carol King catalogue, Speeding Time is worth exploring.

Article first published as Music Review: Carole King – Speeding Time on Blogcritics.

One To One by Carole King

October 27, 2011

By 1982, Carole King’s contract with the Capital label had come to an end. She then signed with Atlantic Records for the release of the album One To One that year.

For better or worse, her album releases have been compared to the brilliant and mega-selling Tapestry since it came out in 1971, and have always come up short. That album was so ingrained into the American music consciousness that it has been difficult for any subsequent release to escape its shadow and stand completely on its own.

One To One was a Carole King album that was very good in its own right. The song structures were imaginative and the melodies were sound. The lyrics may not have been as personal or sophisticated as her earlier work but all in all, it added up to to one of her better middle career efforts.
King mostly recorded with a basic band, plus she handled the piano work and lead vocals herself. It was always a good sign when guitarist Danny Kortchmar appeared among the music personnel. Here he was joined by another superior guitarist, Eric Johnson. Other musicians included keyboardist Reese Wynans, bassist Charles Lackey, and drummer Steve Meador, among others.

She was the solo composer of seven of the 10 tracks, but the three with other writers were very good. The title song was written with Cynthia Weil, who was part of another great 1960s husband-and-wife writing team with Barry Mann. The melody was addictive, and as the first track, it got the album off to a solid start.

“Looking Out For Number One” was written with Gerry Goffin, daughter Louise Goffin, and Warren Pash. This time, too many cooks were not too many. It was tuneful and made for King’s voice. She turned to former husband Gerry Goffin for “Someone You Never Met Before.” It was the album’s strongest track and proved that their ability to create songs of beauty remained intact over two decades into their songwriting careers.

There were several solo-penned songs that were strong as well. The autobiographical and aforementioned “Looking Out For Number One” was a philosophical statement of where she was on her life’s journey at the time. “Read Between The Lines” had a catchy chorus that just stayed in your mind. “Little Prince” closed the album and left you wondering who exactly was the little prince.

One To One remains an underappreciated and sometimes forgotten album in Carole King’s vast catalogue. It deserves better as it is a very good album that is still worth a visit now and then.

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Pearls: Songs Of Goffin and King by Carole King

October 23, 2011

As the 1970s came to an end, Carole King’s commercial viability was in decline and far removed from the multi-million sales success of Tapestry. Her recent releases had been competent if not outstanding, and 1980 found her at a crossroads of her career, needing to produce a commercially successful album.

Since her current compositions were not providing her with the success she desired, she returned to her past for material. There is an old saying, “That you can never go home again,” but she proved that you could return to your past musically, especially when it contained some of the best pop songs of the 1960s. It all added up to her best and most successful album release in years.

During the 1960s, she and former husband Gerry Goffin formed one of the most successful and brilliant songwriting teams of all time. Dozens of their compositions charted on the Billboard Magazine Pop Single and Rhythm & Blues Charts. They were inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1990 as a songwriting team. Once she decided upon the concept of her new album, she had a wealth of material from which to choose.

Pearls: Songs Of Goffin And King was released in 1980. Many of its songs would remain a part of her concert act for the rest of her career. It was interesting to hear her interpret her own songs that were associated with other artists. She filled in the sound with a full rock band, brass section, and background vocals.

“One Fine Day” and “The Locomotion” were both a part of Rolling Stone Magazine’slist of The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. The first was originally a hit by The Chiffons. She stripped it down a bit, increased the tempo, and proved she could provide a pure pop vocal for one of her own songs. It became her last top 40 hit to date. “Locomotion” is one of the most successful songs of all time, becoming a number one single for both Little Eva and Grand Funk Railroad, plus reached number three for Kylie Minogue. King’s voice is different from Little Eva’s but her interpretation was similar. Other pure pop interpretations included “Hey Girl,” “Chains,” and “Oh No Not My Baby.”

She traveled in a very different direction on some of the songs. “Wasn’t Born To Follow,” and “Goin’Back” were both recorded by The Byrds and “Hi-De-Ho” by Blood, Sweat & Tears and it’s interesting to hear her solo versions and compare them to their famous rock band incarnations. She had recorded “Goin’ Back” for her Writer album but the song was completely re-worked here. “HI-De-Ho” was one of the most blues oriented songs of Goffin and King’s career and it forced her to stretch a little.

Pearls: Songs Of Goffin And King is an album I have continued to play on a regular basis down through the years. Charming is not a strong enough word for her performances on these tracks. It remains an essential, if underappreciated, album in her vast catalogue and is always worth a listen.

Article first published as Music Review: Carole King – Pearls: Songs Of Goffin And King on Blogcritics.

Touch The Sky by Carole King

October 18, 2011

As the 1970s came to an end, Carole King had reached the point in her career where she could fill concert halls due to the quality of her past material and her vast commercial appeal. Her albums continued to be moderately successful but her high charting, multi-platinum sales days were a thing of the past.

Touch The Sky was recorded during 1979 and released during June of that year. Her husband, Rick Evers, had died the previous year and she entered the studio with that event fairly fresh in her mind. She traveled to Austin, Texas, to record and used a number of musicians who were a part of Jerry Jeff Walker’s backing band, which gave some of the tracks a country flavor.

She used no cowriters this time around, and so was solely responsible for the album’s ten tracks. The good news right out of the gate was she was listed as a piano player and guitarist again. On her last album she was only listed only as the vocalist.

King produced a competent, if not spectacular album. It was a ho-hum affair commercially, reaching only number 104 on Billboard’s Pop Album Chart. It remains one of her most difficult albums to find, as it has been out of print for years in the United States and the Japanese edition is extremely pricey.

Most of the tracks contain some worthwhile attributes. Overall, all the elements are there but the album just does not completely gel as did her better releases.

Given her personal issues at the time, the album’s first track, “Time Gone By,” starts the music on a surprisingly positive note. It has an anthem-like quality and the melody is memorable.

It is the center of the album that comes closest to returning King to the glory of her past. “You Still Want Her” ranks among her best ballads. The melody is sophisticated and complex, the vocal emotional, with the dominant instrument a haunting guitar. ”Passing Of The Days” is a fun filled romp, the likes of which had been missing on many of her more recent releases. “Crazy” is a light rocker where she expressed her feelings about suburbia.

The album ends on a strong note. “Seeing Red” is a heartfelt ode to the plight of Native Americans.

Touch The Sky was a better album than its reception implied. It remains an intelligent and likeable release, and at times during an artist’s career, that is enough.

Article first published as Music Review: Carole King – Touch The Sky on Blogcritics.