CAROLE KING: TOUCH THE SKY (1979)
1) Time Gone By; 2) Move Lightly; 3) Dreamlike I Wander; 4) Walk With Me (I'll Be Your Companion); 5) Good Mountain People; 6) You Still Want Her; 7) Passing Of The Days; 8) Crazy; 9) Eagle; 10) Seeing Red.
The best thing I can say about Touch The Sky, recorded in the wake of yet another tragedy in Carole's life (Rick Evers' death from overdosing), is that it at least avoids any explicit embarrassments like ʽHard Rock Cafeʼ or ʽDisco Techʼ. It is just a plain, normal little record in Carole's usual pop-rock style, alternating between balladry, country-rock, and R&B and about as exciting as having to sit through a musical lesson with an obedient, hard-working, but sparkless student. Without Evers, Carole now once again writes all the music and all the lyrics (I think the last time this happened was on Fantasy), but retains most of the playing team from the previous two albums, including her talented guitarist Mark Hallman (but not Robert McEntee). This helps her get a good sound going on, but there's only so much a good sound can do when you're running real low on inspiration — honestly, the album title should have come with a question mark.
The first two tracks on the album were released as singles, probably just because they were the first two tracks — not a single selection could be identified as an obvious highlight. ʽTime Gone Byʼ is a melancholic-optimistic hymn to the past ("I remember time gone by / When peace and hope and dreams were high"), of the grass-was-greener kind, but with keeper-of-the-flame elements as well ("We followed inner visions and touched the sky / Now we who still believe won't let them die"). The sentiment is cute, but melodically, the song is a soft-rock bore, and the chorus, though definitely louder than the verse, does not gather the necessary energy to infect us with Carole's "inner visions" and stuff. ʽMove Lightlyʼ, in contrast, is a «suspenseful» piece of dark R&B, with an ominous atmosphere — grim bassline, spooky snippets of echoey guitars and organs jumping out at you from the shadows; a first for Carole in this department, not too bad, but not really a style that could be seen as fully appropriate for her. Maybe she should have donated the song to the Rolling Stones instead.
Everything else that is at least vaguely memorable usually is so due to the return of pleasant guitar work, whose absence was so much felt on Welcome Home. The barroom rock of ʽGood Mountain Peopleʼ, a weirder-than-weird attempt at a lyrical reconciliation between hippies and hillbillies ("it's quite a sight to see rednecks and longhairs / After years on the opposite sides of the fences" — WHA?...), is made far more tolerable with an excellent, colorfully distorted power-pop guitar tone; and, likewise, the best thing about the power balladry of ʽYou Still Want Herʼ is the beautiful use of sustain on the bluesy guitar solo. Where these instrumental decors are absent, the songs usually just degenerate into banalities, like ʽEagleʼ, a deeply clichéd allegorical story about Freedom and Independence whose intended audience is probably even younger than Really Rosie's, except Carole's lyrics have neither the inventiveness nor the humor of Maurice Sendak, and the melodic background for the song is totally unremarkable.
It helps at least that there are quite a few upbeat, toe-tappy numbers here, because with one unterminable ballad after another the results would have been completely untolerable — as it is, we at least have stuff like the generic country-rocker ʽPassing Of The Daysʼ and the generic pop-rocker ʽCrazyʼ that increase the simple fun factor without cheapening the proceedings any farther than they have already been cheapened. This all makes for a record that is perfectly listenable, if also perfectly forgettable afterwards — at least, if you're really running short on inspiration, try to make a good uninspired mix of various styles, which is a lesson that was not learnt either on Rhymes & Reasons or Thoroughbred. But no, I am not recommending this for anybody except for completists or strange sophisticated lovers of Mark Hallman's guitar playing.