CAROLE KING: A HOLIDAY CAROLE (2011)
1) My Favorite Things; 2) Carol Of The Bells; 3) Sleigh Ride; 4) Christmas Paradise; 5) Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday; 6) Chanukah Prayer; 7) Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas; 8) I Got My Love To Keep Me Warm; 9) Christmas In The Air; 10) Do You Hear What I Hear; 11) This Christmas; 12) New Year's Day.
Come to think of it, it is weird that Carole had to wait until she was nearly seventy years old to release a Christmas album — with her cozy domestic attitudes and pure love for sentimental simplicity with a touch of the patriarchal (matriarchal?) spirit, this should have happened several decades earlier; then again, the «Christmas album virus» does tend to typically infect people only after their immune system has been severely ravaged by multiple bouts of writer's block, and now that the lady has little, if anything, left to lose, it's exactly the same question of «why not?» as it is for, say, Jethro Tull or Aretha Franklin.
So we've got some bad news and some good news for you here. Starting off with the good: in terms of instruments and arrangements, this is Carole's best-sounding record in almost, let's see... thirty years, I guess — the last time her songs sounded that natural and unsuffocated by studio gloss was on 1982's One To One (not that it was a masterpiece or anything, but the basic sound stayed true to the genuine C. King spirit). Other than the piano sound (why do they really have to use these electronic keyboards in the studio when they could easily go for a nice Steinway?), we have a real band backing the artist, acoustic drums, guitars, winds, strings, real live harmonies, and practically no traces of the «new R&B sound» that made her last two attempts at a comeback so painfully contaminated with something that was so much not Carole King. Christmas or no Christmas, I felt really at ease while listening to this.
The bad news now: alas, it is that time when the lady should be taking a break from singing. The aging has finally taken place, and if Love Makes The World still sounded (vocal-wise) much like the same old Carole, the next ten years finally took their merciless toll. She has lost a part of her higher range (occasionally making it real painful for the ears when she tries to hit a high note, e. g. on ʽI Got My Love To Keep Me Warmʼ), and the rest of it has developed a crackle — not stereotypically senile (in all honesty, you still wouldn't be able to precisely tell the age of the singer), but just a grating crackle that makes the whole «saved-by-charisma» thing of the past... well, more or less a thing of the past.
With the bad and the good news outcanceling each other, A Holiday Carole would be completely and utterly useless if not for the fact that the record was largely a product of Carole's daughter, Louise, who co-produced it, sang some harmonies (I think), co-wrote several of the new songs, and seems to have even been the author of the idea. And she does offer a curious touch every now and then, like the slow jazz arrangement of ʽChanukah Prayerʼ where she joins her mother in said prayer along with her own son — three generations of Kleins remembering their roots in a non-totally-boring-predictable manner. She's not that good a songwriter, though: ʽChristmas Paradiseʼ is an admirable, but not very exciting attempt at diversifying the proceedings with some Latin rhythms; ʽChristmas In The Airʼ is family-oriented funk-pop with no interesting twists; and ʽNew Year's Dayʼ is a well-meant try to write a piano ballad in her mother's trademark style, but about as memorable as mother's latter day out-of-steam writings — apparently, just one more case of the parent's talent not being transmitted to the child; I cannot blame Louise Goffin for lack of taste in production or poorly chosen direction, but a genius like her mother she sure is not.
Still, like most of these projects, the purpose of A Holiday Carole is not to make a brand new artistic statement, but more personal — to remind the world that the artist is still alive, and, I guess, to prove to herself that she is still capable of something. And she is — vocal crackle aside, she is still a warm and kind human being who can hardly generate negative emotions even when operating within a fairly banal framework. And, after all, it is at least nice to see her, on what is probably the last serious studio project of her life, to reject trendiness and just go for some good old eternal values, no matter how old-fashioned, conservative, retrograde, or generic they might seem to anybody under 50 at the moment. (For that matter, why is it so that the UK / European release of this record came out under the title A Christmas Carole, and the US album was titled A Holiday Carole? Is this a solitary case of the American market displaying more political correctness than the British one?..)