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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Carole King: Music

CAROLE KING: MUSIC (1971)

1) Brother, Brother; 2) It's Going To Take Some Time; 3) Sweet Seasons; 4) Some Kind Of Wonderful; 5) Surely; 6) Carry Your Load; 7) Music; 8) Song Of Long Ago; 9) Brighter; 10) Growing Away From Me; 11) Too Much Rain; 12) Back To California.

The major problem with Music, as it is, in fact, with most of Carole's subsequent output, is that it is simply much too mellow. Tapestry struck a perfect balance between softness and toughness: ʽI Feel The Earth Moveʼ actually rocked, ʽBeautifulʼ was a real power anthem, ʽWhere You Leadʼ had uplifting energy, and ʽSmackwater Jackʼ was a ridiculously fun stomper of a throwaway, cle­verly sandwiched in between the ballads. Conversely, with Music Carole upsets the balance: as good as any individual song here is (and most are really good), the album overdoses on tender sweetness, and even though, by inertia, it also rose to No. 1 in the charts, sales would be nowhere near as strong as Tapestry's — and today, the record, along with the entirety of Carole's ensuing career, is comfortably forgotten.

Which is unjust, because if taken in small doses, Music gives you exactly the same Carole King: a talented composer, an honest and emotional singer, and an adorable human being. At this point, she is pretty much running out of oldies to cover («re-cover»?): the only such oldie here is the old Drifters' hit ʽSome Kind Of Wonderfulʼ, predictably re-introverted from the Drifters' luxuriously extravert performance, but not necessarily a highlight on this album — in fact, two minutes into the song it becomes a lazy, pleasant lullaby, putting you to sleep with its tasteful, but generic singer-songwriterish arrangement (two criss-crossed acoustic guitars, piano, silky bass, congas, pretty girl backing vocals, the works).

She is still capable of upbeat pop — ʽSweet Seasonsʼ, smartly enough released as a single, is the bounciest and catchiest tune of the lot here, and it should be able to put a smile on your face as easily as anything on Tapestry; the falsetto twirl on the "...like a sailboat a-sailin' on the sea" is marvelously head-spinning, and the entire band seems energized (listen to Charles Larkey really «sailing» on his bass during the fade-out). ʽBrighterʼ seems a little cornier, and its happy beat is like a preview of the nonchalant disco attitude of the mid-Seventies, but that does not take away the catchiness of the chorus or the delight at more of Larkey's impressive bass zoops. And I won­der if the lady herself realized, consciously or unconsciously, that her ʽBack To Californiaʼ was stylistically and musically ripping off the Beatles' ʽGet Backʼ — right down to the message, as now, instead of "Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona, for some California grass", we have "take me to the West Coast, daddy, and let me be where I belong"? The tempo, the beat, the banging piano chords, the electric piano solo... coincidence? Can't be. But cool tune anyway.

The majority of Music is, however, quite mellow... well, actually, even the upbeat songs are mellow, because she simply refuses this time around to let anger, nervous tension, or depression into the pic­ture: sadness, yes, but always colored with optimism. The most unusual song is ʽBrother, Brotherʼ, which seems to have been written under the influence of, and maybe even as an indirect response to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On — a piece of slightly funky soul with a message of feeling one with the (presumably Afro-American) underdog: for some reason, though, it does not work too well, perhaps because she is trying too hard to write and sing in somebody else's style rather than her own — but surely we can appreciate the gesture. There's also the title track, a waltzy continuation of the soft jazz jamming she'd already explored on ʽRaspberry Jamʼ, but again a little more mellow and a little too relying on a rather boring sax solo this time.

As for the ballads, they suffer from sharing precisely the same type of arrangement over and over again (acoustic guitars, piano, bass, congas or soft percussion), even if choruses for ʽGrowing Away From Meʼ and ʽCarry Your Loadʼ are as catchy as anything she'd ever done. The big mis­fire, however, is ʽSurelyʼ, a slow, ponderous, meandering soul jam that seems to take ʽNatural Womanʼ as its starting point, but fails to provide a proper build-up or climax; Aretha, perhaps, could make the song come alive with a big booming delivery, but Carole's vocal powers are not enough to compensate for the lack of interesting melody.

Still, the record gets a thumbs up anyway, because all the main ingredients of King's magic are here — she has forgotten a few of them, but at least the arrangements never take away from her disarming humanity, and I can even stand the James Taylor duet on ʽSong Of Long Agoʼ (al­though only barely so). If you are an admirer of the balladeering side of the lady, do not pass this by: Music has plenty of soul-baring introspection that cannot be spoiled by generic soft-rock arrangements. But do not, indeed, expect another installment of Tapestry.

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