Welcome Home by Carole King

October 10, 2011

Carole King recorded Welcome Home during January of 1978 and released the album about four months later. While it was an album of mostly upbeat music, personal tragedy would strike as her husband and sometime co-writer, Rick Evers, would die of a drug overdose in between. The album would not be embraced by the music buying public and was her least successful up until that time.

The first sign of trouble was found in the personnel listing. She was listed as the vocalist, background vocalist, and for arranging the strings. She was not listed as a musician. It was her personal piano sound that was so important to her success, and here it was ignored. There was a brass section listed, a virtual orchestra of strings, and even a choir. It all added up to a new direction for her music. She continued to travel away from her gritty, personal lyrics toward a more pastoral and philosophical style.

She wrote or co-wrote all the tracks but two were written by committee, which further removed her from her previous comfort zone. Her two compositions with Evers, “Sunbird” and “Wings of Love,” are polished but not memorable. Her solo compositions were the best of the lot, which should have been a lesson learned.

I had to listen to this album a number of times to reacquaint myself with the music, which is not a good sign. There are a number of her albums where I can name many of the songs, but I could only recall the name of one track before I removed it from the shelf.

The song I did remember was “Main Street Saturday Night,” which was actually very good. It had strong guitar lines and quickly settled into a nice groove. The vocal was also excellent, as she sounded as if she was really trying.

The two songs she wrote with multiple members of her recording band are among the album’s weakest. “Venusian Diamond” just misses as she/they overreached and the song did not gel. “Disco Tech” is dated, and any Carole King song with disco in the title still makes me cringe.

He own compositions, “Ride The Music” and “Morning Sun,” are interesting in some regards. Her use of a flute and clarinet as significant instruments was a creative touch. “Everybody’s Got The Spirit” and “Welcome Home” are competent songs and were welcome as they closed the album.

I don’t know what her mindset was when she was creating the music for the album or in what direction her marital relationship was traveling at the time. Both may have significantly impacted the album. On the other hand, the lyrics were mostly positive and whether they were legitimate or escapist is not known.

Carole King is a genius, but Welcome Home remains one of the weaker albums in her catalogue and one of the most forgettable.

Article first published as Music Review: Carole King – Welcome Home on Blogcritics.

Simple Things by Carole King

October 7, 2011

Carole King’s contract with the Ode label had expired with her last release and with it her overwhelming commercial success also ended. While she would continue to be moderately successful, there would be none of the commercial highs that dominated the first part of her recording career.

She released her first album for the Capital label in July of 1977. Simple Things marked the beginning of an evolution in her musical style. She would rely less on dramatic, gritty, and personal lyrics and would move toward what can best be described as a more laid-back or pastoral style of writing.

Her sound had begun to fill in as a horn section, strings, background singers, and a full band made appearances on many of the tracks, giving them a different feel from many of her classic songs of the past. The fact that her daughters, Louise and Sherry Goffin, were listed as the two supporting vocalists proved that time was moving on and she was maturing, individually and professionally, for better or worse. She also returned to writing most of the material herself as she only used co-writer Rick Evers on three of the ten tracks.

The songs had a laid-back and flowing style to them. They fit together into an easy and for the most part pleasant listen. There was some good material, but the whole was not up to the caliber of her best work. In the final analysis there were a lot of good songs but no truly outstanding song or two to push the album over the top and make it memorable.

“In The Name Of Love” has been covered by the likes of Barbra Streisand and Linda Ronstadt. King’s own version was a slow, meandering piece that followed the melody as it ebbed and flowed. The title track had some striking chords that caught your attention for a time before settling back in the flow of the music. “Hold On” found the guitar sound sharing the stage with her piano. “One” has a nice melody but the philosophical lyrics of unification feel dated as would some of her stories and lyrics in the future. On the other hand, she rocked out a bit on “God Only Knows,” and “You’re The One Who Knows,” which was always welcome.

Simple Things was an album that sort of disappeared into her catalogue of releases. The music was good but not enough as to make a person choose to listen to this album over many of those that preceded it. Pleasant but not essential.

Article first published as Music Review: Carole King – Simple Things on Blogcritics.

Thoroughbred by Carole King

October 6, 2011

Beginning with 1971’s classic Tapestry and ending with 1976’s Thoroughbred, Carole King produced a series of six albums that were commercially successful, artistically creative, and which elevated her to the upper echelon of singer/songwriters in American music.

Thoroughbred was issued during January of 1976. It was her last album for the Ode label and signaled the end to the mostly joyful, romantic, and honest songs that dominated her work up until that time. It was an album where the guitar playing of Waddy Wachtel, Danny Kortchmar, and to a lesser extent James Taylor, shared center stage with King’s piano. There was also a heavy dose of acoustic guitars mixed in with the electric. It all added up to a pleasant, if not very venturesome, King release.

It was a solid album of good music. There were no real outstanding tracks that can be considered among her best but on the other hand there were no clunkers either. It quickly received a gold record award for sales and reached number three on the Billboard Magazine Pop Album Chart.

“Only Love Is Real” was released as the first single and barely made it into the top 30 at number 28. It was a smooth and polished mid-tempo pop song that had a wonderful union of guitar and piano. The other single, “High Out of Time,” just managed to crack the top 100 but deserved better. It was a piano-based ballad that had a similar sound to some of her best work of the past and had an innate beauty to it. While the songs tend to meld into one another, “Ambrosia,” “Still Here Thinking Of You,” and “So Many Ways,” are a cut above the rest.

She had achieved a stature where she could attract some of the more famous musicians and vocalists to assist her. This album featured David Crosby, Graham Nash, J.D. Souther, and sax player Tom Scott, in addition to the above mentioned guitarists. After using Dave Palmer as the lyricist on all the songs for her previous album, Wrap Around Joy, she only used him once here. She wrote five of the ten songs herself and combined with former husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin on the last four tracks.

Thoroughbred may not be King’s most creative or unique effort, but it fits nicely into her catalogue of releases at the time. She has more essential releases to be explored, but it remains a satisfying listen.

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

Wrap Around Joy by Carole King

September 26, 2011

Carole King returned with her sixth studio album during September of 1974 with the release of Wrap Around Joy. It was not as diverse or adventurous as her previous release, Fantasy, but it proved to be more popular as it topped the Billboard Magazine Pop Album Chart and remains her last number one album to date.

The biggest change from previous releases was her use of lyricist Dave Palmer on all of the tracks. It would signal the beginning of her depending on outside lyricists to a larger extent than in the past. While the album had a cohesiveness that was missing from some of her prior releases, it was not as intimate or personal as the words were not her own. Still, it was a polished rock/pop album that remains an enjoyable listen nearly four decades later.

She used several dozen support musicians, including full horn and string sessions. Included among the background vocalists were daughters Louise and Sherry Goffin. King also expanded her instrument of choice from just the piano, as she also played the synthesizer and guitar.

The album returned her to the musical mainstream as “Jazzman” (#2) and “Nightingale” (#9) both became hit singles and received extensive radio airplay. “Jazzman” was a relaxed and smooth song, notable for Tom Scott’s sax lines. “Nightingale” included forceful piano playing from King.

One of the highlights was the back-to-back songs, “You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine” and “You’re Something New.” The first was a break-up song and the second was a joyous love song.

It would be interesting to have a history of the recording process to learn if Palmer and King wrote together and if not, who wrote first. Whatever the process, there were a number of gentle songs with many exploring the joyous side of love. “You’re Something New,” “You Gentle Me,” “Sweet Adonis,” and “A Night This Side Of Dying” all looked at the relationships as King sings with emotion, even if the words were not her own.

The last track, “The Best Is Yet To Come,” concluded the album on a positive note as she looked toward the future with hope.

Wrap Around Joy is often overlooked in her large catalogue of releases. It may not be her most creative or interesting album but when taken on its own merits it emerges as polished and in some places sophisticated pop. It is perfect for a lazy afternoon listen.

Article first published as Music Review: Carole King – Wrap Around Joy on Blogcritics.

Fantasy by Carole King

September 23, 2011

Carole King released Fantasy during 1973. It was less commercially successful than her other 1970s hit albums, which was a shame, as it was her more creative one. As the years passed, it remained one of her most consistent sellers as more people discovered its uniqueness.

Fantasy was a concept album for the ear and senses. The songs transition seamlessly into one another, which created a cohesive whole despite the wide range of styles and sounds. The blending of soul, pop, jazz, and folk made it a laid-back and subtle listening experience. The music overshadows the lyrics in many places, which are simpler and more straightforward than in the past.

She continued to use a variety of supporting musicians, including guitarists Danny Kortchmar and Dave Walker, who form the foundation for her piano work, which was some of the best of her career. She also used a full brass and string section. King did not use any co-writers for this album and so was responsible for composing and arranging all 13 of the tracks.

It was a very sophisticated album in its construction and presentation. The soul-styling of “Welfare Symphony” transitions into the string-laden “You Light Up My Life,“ which moves on to the Latin-sounding “Corazon”and then onto the jazzy “Believe In Humanity.” And so it went throughout the album. It was all quite clever. While the tracks can stand on their own, when taken in succession, they have an added depth and formed a memorable whole.

The better songs tended to have optimism to them. “You Light Up My Life” explored the simple pleasures of love, while “Believe In Humanity” had an upbeat philosophical message. While several of the tracks went in different directions, such as “Being At War With Each Other” and “Welfare Symphony,” even they had a calm and peaceful feel to them. The long story song, “Haywood,” falls into that category as well.

When listening to Fantasy,you need to put your feet up, pour a glass of your favorite beverage, and relax as the music washes over you. It was a joyous romp through the fantasy life of Carole King and maybe yours as well.

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

Rhymes and Reasons by Carole King

September 20, 2011

When Carole King released Rhymes and Reasons during October of 1972, she was in the midst of a string of seven albums, from 1971’s Tapestry to 1977’s Simple Things, that elevated her to the top echelon of music superstars, both artistically and commercially. It was a rare accomplishment for a singer/songwriter, such as King, to maintain the level of creativity and popularity that she achieved during that seven year period.

The classic Tapestry was now two albums in the past, so it was easier for this release to be accepted on its own merits, unlike its predecessor Music. It was another strong album as the music was smooth and the lyrics incisive.

While she used a number of musicians in support plus some horns and strings, she still managed to create an intimate album, which focused on her piano and voice. Producer Lou Adler had begun to layer her piano playing, which gave the music a fuller sound, thus enhancing the listening experience.

She continued to write or co-write all of the tracks. The lyrics were introspective in many places as she used her personal experiences to create a number of the stories. The album also had an underlying spiritual (but not an overtly religious) quality, which was confessional, gentle, and ultimately uplifting.

The songs were entrancing as she invited the listener to join her as she expresseed her joys and disappointments. It consisted of 12 tracks and they just fly by and make you want to start over again.

“Peace In The Valley” is the emotional and musical center of the album. It was a song about a lack of brotherhood and fellowship but remained hopeful that they will come in the near future. The song was sorely needed at the height of the Vietnam War.

There was a lot to like here. The album’s best known song, “Been To Canaan,” was a hit pop single and topped the Billboard Magazine Adult Contemporary Chart. It was a song of longing for what had been that still resonates almost 40 years later. “Bitter With The Sweet” was a jazzy little tune, a style she would explore more fully in the future. “The First Day In August” had a poignant beauty that proved simple is best at times. “Gotta Get Though Another Day” was a song about the drudgery of life, while maintaining hope.

Rhymes and Reasons is one of the more emotional and philosophical albums of her career. In the final analysis it can be considered a soundtrack to life, both hers and anyone who listens to the music. It remains an essential listen on the musical journey of Carole King.

Article first published as Music Review: Carole King – Rhymes and Reasons on Blogcritics.

Music by Carole King

September 13, 2011

So, how do you top an album that sold 25 million copies worldwide, won four Grammy Awards, and spent 15 consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart? Such was the dilemma Carole King found herself in when she went back into the studio to record the follow-up to Tapestry. The answer, of course, was you don’t, but you can come very close.

Carole King released Music a mere 11 months after Tapestry. Since its release, for better or worse, it has always be associated with her greatest work. When put in that context, it comes up just a little short. When taken on its own merits, it was a brilliant album in its own right, eventually selling four million copies worldwide and topping the United States album charts for three weeks.

It is an intimate album that exudes warmth. Her vocals are passionate and soulful. The music is simple and the lyrics have an intelligence about them. It’s not really a cohesive album as the material travels in a number of musical styles and directions, but most of the songs, when taken individually, have a simple elegance.

I don’t know if I would rate Carole King as one of music’s great pianists, but she gets the job done. Her music on this album is simple and the preciseness of her playing is the perfect backdrop. She is the vocal and instrumental center of the album and her piano and voice go hand in hand.

The best two songs were “Sweet Seasons” and “Song Of Long Ago.” The first was a successful single that was filled with catchy piano hooks and presented the joys of life. The second, with background vocals by James Taylor, was really a folk song as it talked about family, friends, and time passing. It is one of those songs that I would like to ask the artist what she thinks about it 40 years later.

There were a number of other songs to like here. “Brother Brother” and “Carry The Load” both have some social bite, and the first has an R&B flavor. “It’s Going To Take Some Time” was a lush hit with strings by the Carpenters, but I have always preferred her simple and sparse rendition. Likewise, “Some Kind Of Wonderful” was a huge hit for The Drifters during 1961, but here she turns this old Goffin/King composition into a beautiful and soulful love song. “Surely” is the album’s longest track, which gave her the time to develop and tell a story.

Music is many times over shadowed and underappreciated but it remains a minor classic. If you have only been exposed to Carole King through the music of Tapestry or one of her compilation albums, then Music is a good place to begin to know her a little better.

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

Tapestry by Carole King

September 8, 2011

Tapestry was one of those albums that was so good, you looked for reasons not to like it. At the time of its release, I was the program director of my college radio station, and it was an album that was played over and over again. Its better known songs quickly became ingrained onto the American musical consciousness. I remember banning the record for a period of time along with Chicago II and the second Blood, Sweat & Tears album.

The album seemed to appear from nowhere. Carole King had been a very successful songwriter with former husband Gerry Goffin, but had released only one moderately successful album the year before. While Writer had been a well-crafted album, it gave no hint that she would become a commercial juggernaut.

The success of Tapestry was mindboggling. It was the number one album in the United States for 15 consecutive weeks and remained on the Billboard’s Pop Album Chart for almost six years. It has sold over 25 million copies worldwide to date. Throw in four Grammy Awards and you have one of the most successful albums in music history.

Time has allowed me gain some perspective and reassess the album. The result is yes, it’s still that good.

King managed to issue an album of simple beauty and sincerity that ran counterpoint to much of the music that was being produced during the Vietnam War era. The music and lyrics are pop with a hint of folk. This fusion of style and sound made it appealing to several generations of music fans, a rare achievement at the time.

The music rotates from ballads, “So Far Away” and the number one single hit “It’s Too Late,” to uptempo pop such as “I Feel The Earth Move,” and “Where You Lead,” to the famous “You’ve Got A Friend.”

The emotional center of the album was “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “(You Make me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” The Shirelles had a number one hit with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” but King’s passionate vocal reduces their version to lightweight pop. Aretha Franklin’s interpretation of “A Natural Woman” remains a soul classic but King’s original, while different, is just as emotional in its own right.

“You’ve Got A Friend” will always be associated with James Taylor but her own version, at over five minutes, remains just as good.

It is an album with no weak tracks and many of the songs have been extensively covered by other artists down through the years.

It remains just about the perfect album. The music was uncomplicated but the lyrics gave everything a depth. The lyrics were also personal and universal at the same time. It all added up to an album that was laid back, unpretentious, and an effortless listen.

King has produced a lot of good music since Tapestry, but nothing the equal of her perfect album. It should be a part of everyone’s music collection; after all, 25,000,000 music buyers can’t be wrong.

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

Writer by Carole King

September 7, 2011

Carole King is a well respected and popular singer/songwriter who has sold well over 10 million albums. The first part of her career was as a songwriter with former husband Gerry Goffin. Her first composing success took place in 1960 when “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles topped the American Singles charts. By the end of the millennium, 118 of her songs had charted on the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart. The writing team of Goffin/King has been inducted into The Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls Of Fame

While she had released a few singles during the 1960s, it was not until 1970 that she issued her first album, Writer. It was a moderate commercial success but set the stage for one of the best-selling albums in American music history (Tapestry), which would shortly follow.

Writer is a many times forgotten album in her large catalogue. It was a mixed bag in terms of covering a number of styles. The main handicap over the years has been the mix. The original vinyl album featured fuzzy vocals at times. The CD releases cured that problem but faded some of the songs too early, plus turned down the volume on her piano until it was almost non-existent on some tracks. Recent reissues have hopefully dealt with those problems.

She co-wrote 11 of the 12 tracks with Gerry Goffin, and the last with Toni Stern. Some songs may not be among her most memorable but most were very good.

The one track that was and remains well-known was a remake of her own “Up On The Roof,” which had been a hit for The Drifters during late 1962 and early 1963. It was a brilliant creation, as the ascending notes match the lyrics as they travel up to the roof. Her take was simpler than The Drifters, as the focus was on her vocal and piano. James Taylor made the song a hit again during 1979 and they performed it regularly on their recent reunion tour.

There were a number of excellent tracks. One of the best was “Eventually,” which spoke of the dreams and fears of the ’60s generation as a new decade had begun. “Raspberry Jam” can best be described as a jazz waltz. ”Goin Back” looked at the simple things in life, at a time when life was anything but simple for many people.

Writer found Carole King at the beginning of her recording career. It was simple, lyrical, melodic, and underrated. It remains a comforting and enjoyable listen 41 years later.

Read more: http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-carole-king-writer/#ixzz1XHFwMwCt

Love Makes The World by Carole King

July 8, 2009

The career of Carole King now spans 50 years. She began her career in the late 1950s as part of the great Goffin-King songwriting team. During the 1970s she produced a series of critically acclaimed and platinum selling albums, including Tapestry.
However over the course of the last quarter century, King has released a series of albums that have suffered from a musical sameness, resulting in decreasing appeal and sales. So it was with some trepidation I approached this disc, but it turns out to be by far the best Carole King album of the last 25 years.

The album begins slowly. “Love Makes The World” and “You Can Do Anything” are both uptempo pop songs in the traditional King mode. Her laid back vocals are out front of restrained guitar, piano and drums with some sax thrown in for good measure. Nothing brilliant here, but pleasant.

“The Reason” begins as a slow ballad and builds to a surprising rocking conclusion. Carole King stretches vocally more here than she has in years and it’s good to hear her music actually rock. I Wasn’t Gonna Fall In Love With You” is a nice counterpoint song with a mellow sax, while “I Don’t Know” is a rocking love song with a stop/start tempo.

The old warhorse “Oh No Not My Baby” is slowed down and features King’s voice over just piano and acoustic bass. “It Could Have Been Anyone” is a great mid tempo love song, while “Monday With You” is another great rocking song that builds vocally upon itself. “An Uncommon Love” is a strong love ballad, coming near the end of what turns out to be a rather satisfying effort.

Recently re-released as a two-disc deluxe edition, Love Makes The World’s bonus disc includes five songs and four video tracks. “Birthday Song,” “Love For Christmas” and “Where You Lead I Will Follow” are average but “Two Hearts” is excellent. The video tracks are two live performances plus the making of the album stuff and an interview with King. This fare is mostly forgettable.

Love Makes The World is a wonderful album that ages well with each playing. It shows that Carole King can still produce interesting and relevant music after almost 50 years in the business.