CAROLE KING: REALLY ROSIE (1975)
1) Really Rosie; 2) One Was Johnny; 3) Alligators All Around; 4) Pierre; 5) Screaming And Yelling; 6) The Ballad Of Chicken Soup; 7) Chicken Soup With Rice; 8) Avenue P; 9) My Simple Humble Neighborhood; 10) The Awful Truth; 11) Such Sufferin'; 12) Really Rosie (reprise).
Not having had the honor of growing up as a kid (or growing kids as a parent) in mid-Sixties America, I have missed the opportunity to become closely acquainted with the work of Maurice Sendak — however, as far as I can see, at least the verse part of his picture books (The Nutshell Library series) was fairly faithfully adapted by Carole King, and the lyrics are pretty cool: at the expense of being perhaps a bit too complicated for the average toddler, they have «family entertainment» value in that they may engage both kids and adults, and, of course, they have that «unsettling», «dark» angle that is so much all the rage today, as long as a particular author of children's literature wants to get a pat on the back from sophisticated critics and readers.
But truth be told, there's really no denying the talent of the writer, and it's twice as awesome that a melody writer as talented as Carole King agreed to put some of those lyrics to music. It may have been quite natural, too, seeing as how she had kids of her own who probably were growing up on that stuff (in fact, daughters Louise and Sherry are here in person, providing backup vocals throughout), and, as a progressive mother who is not afraid of a little bit of scary imagery, she herself is totally getting into the spirit of the thing. More importantly, it provides her with a great opportunity to get away from the too overtly mellow, wishy-washy structure of her emotional balladry and concentrate almost exclusively on those pop hooks that had pretty much died out after Tapestry (although Wrap Around Joy wasn't too bad in that respect).
The proper way to do this, actually, is (a) keep the tunes as snappy and upbeat as possible and (b) keep the arrangements to a minimum — most of the time, it's just a piano-bass-drums trio, with husband Charles Larkey and Andy Newmark keeping up the beat. In a few cases, there's also some guitar, usually in the appropriate contexts — for instance, ʽThe Awful Truthʼ, where the protagonist discusses her chances at "playing Mrs. Dracula", is accompanied by some histrionic distorted electric soloing; and, curiously, Carole herself is credited as the only guitar player on the album, so it's somewhat hilarious to think that her first experience playing distorted electric guitar may have taken place on an album for kiddies.
Anyway, if your toddler likes the books, he or she would probably be happy to recite the alphabet in the ʽAlligators All Aroundʼ order, empathizing with the I-don't-caring Pierre and the lion who had to eat him in order to cure him from an annoying attitude, crying at the terrible fate of Chicken Soup (Carole gets into this one with a particularly theatrical flavor, with probably her wildest bit of screaming ever captured on record), or learning the differences between the twelve months of the year, all of which have only one thing in common — ʽChicken Soup With Riceʼ. And if you are the parent of that toddler, you might (brushes sentimental tear off face) be happy yourself to provide him or her with that entertainment. Besides, if you just stick to the books, you'll never be able to recite them as effectively as Carole, so, you know, better leave it to the professionals.
No, honestly, it's not one of those rare records that «masquerades» as a children-oriented piece of entertainment, while at the same time containing hidden depth — Really Rosie is purely shallow fun-oriented stuff. But it is infested with Carole King charisma from top to bottom, and when the charisma is combined with a clever mix of cuddliness, sentimentality, humor, and macabre spookiness... well, the overall result is far more enjoyable on a gut level, even for an adult, than quite a few «dead serious» albums in my memory. So, thumbs up: my only complaint is that it will now take at least a couple of weeks for my brain to clear out that "chicken soup, chicken soup, chicken soup with RIIIICE!" bit. Particularly painful, that one, given how much I hate the very idea of chicken soup with rice. (For a change, try humming "chicken soup with mice" or "chicken soup with lice" instead — I assure you that it won't spoil the spirit of the book or of the musical one little bit).