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Carole King and Her Majestic Tapestry
Written: Dec 1, 2010 (Updated Dec 1, 2010)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:strong start, strong middle; King's songwriting; loose, jazzy musical production
Cons:weak ending; King's vocal range
The Bottom Line: Highlights include: "I Feel the Earth Move," "So Far Away," "It's Too Late," and "You've Got a Friend"
Before embarking on a solo career at the dawn of the 1970s, Carole King was best known from the previous decade as half of a very successful songwriting team. With her husband, lyricist Gerry Goffin, King penned a number of hit songs for acts as diverse as The Animals and Herman’s Hermits. So, her decision to step into the spotlight and go it alone as a solo act was probably met with some hesitancy. Would she prove to be as talented at singing and playing as she was at songwriting? After all, a similar move by Burt Bacharach proved that some songwriters belong behind the scenes.
Any lingering doubts about King’s solo career were quelled after listening to the first three songs from Tapestry, her second solo album. “I Feel the Earth Move,” “So Far Away,” and the #1 hit “It’s Too Late” are all first-rate songs. What King lacks in vocal range she makes up for in earnestness. Musically they have a jazz influence while lyrically they examine different corridors of the human heart. The opening song centers around lust (“I just lose control/Down to my very soul”), with King’s piano trading off fours with an electric guitar on one of the faster-paced songs on the album.
“So Far Away,” meanwhile, is an introspective ballad with piano and guitar softly setting the mood and joined by a flute that plays through the fade out. Here King displays what a fine lyricist she has become.
So far away
Doesn’t anybody stay in one place any more
It would be so fine to see your face at my door
Doesn’t help to know you’re just time away
At first, it reads and sounds like King is placing a temporal distance on her loved one. She may not be physically near her friend or lover, but she is within a long drive or plane ride’s distance, “just time away.” But then the second verse enters and reveals another explanation:
Long ago I reached for you and there you stood
Holding you again would only do me good
How I wish I could
But you’re so far away
It might be a physical distance between King and the person of whom she sings, or it could be an emotional distance. She can’t put her arms around this person because there is detachment between them and the “time away” is measured not by hours of travel but by days of happier times (“long ago I reached for you”).
“It’s Too Late” expands on that theme with the opening verse:
Stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time
There’s something wrong here there can be no denying
One of us is changing
Or maybe we’ve just stopped trying
In those lines, King perfectly captures the mood of a dying relationship but without assessing blame on either party. "One of us is changing" echoes the previous song's rhetorical question "Doesn't anybody stay in one place anymore?" And if the final verse of "It's Too Late" seems a little like a new-age mantra (“I’m glad for what we had/And how I once loved you”), the extended musical interlude of piano, electric organ, guitar, and saxophone that precedes it paves the way for moving on.
Tapestry includes a couple of songs King wrote in the past with Gerry Goffin that became big hits for other artists. The first one, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was originally recorded by The Shirelles. King’s version slows the tempo down, which allows the emotion behind the lyrics to sink in. In doing so, she shows that the questions about intimacy that are posed in this song are applicable to anyone whose relationship is ready to go to the next level, whether they are teenagers or adults who have teenagers themselves.
The second Goffin-King number had been a hit for Aretha Franklin, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Though King’s version doesn’t match Franklin’s peak performance (and honestly, how could it?), her version is a respectable one (no pun intended) and demonstrates her capability of interpreting her own, classic material.
Both of those numbers are placed on the back half of the album. Side 2 opens with another song that would prove to be a classic, “You’ve Got a Friend.” In fact, James Taylor’s version hit #1 just two weeks after “It’s Too Late” fell from the top spot. But where Taylor gave a somewhat mannered delivery, King appears to be more sincere. Now, it would be easy to dismiss this song as so much pop schmaltz, what with a chorus that begins “You just call out my name/And you know wherever I am/I’ll Come running,” as if you were summoning Captain Marvel. But King redeems it on the bridge:
Ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend
When people can be so cold
They’ll hurt you
And desert you
And take your soul if you let them
Oh, but don’t you let them
Tell me that those words didn’t change, or perhaps save, somebody’s life at some time. When King softly sings that last line like a mother soothing her child to sleep, she transcends whatever sentimentality that was previously there in the song.
Even the minor numbers on Tapestry prominently feature King’s knack for melody. Side 1 concludes with the melancholy “Home Again,” the pep-talk of “Beautiful” and the gospel-inflected “Way Over Yonder.” Side 2 adds the peppy “Where You Lead,” with submissive lyrics provided by Toni Stern.
Where Tapestry starts to unravel is on the up-tempo “Smackwater Jack” and, oddly enough, on the title track. The first song is rock and roll set to a boogie woogie beat and, although her playing is good, King’s vocal, not a strong point from the get-go, lacks the necessary punch to pull off this outlaw story. Meanwhile, the title piece just sounds maudlin, with a touchy-feely story that sits uneasily with the great relationship songs on the album. These two back-to-back songs are toward the end of Tapestry, and it feels like they were added as filler on an otherwise satisfying album.
Two previously unissued bonus tracks are tacked onto the end of the remastered edition of Tapestry. The first one is a bouncy little cautionary tale entitled "Out in the Cold" and as such it's on par with most of the material on the rest of the album. I would have certainly preferred its inclusion to either the sappy title track or "Smackwater Jack," which seems to have made the cut solely because the album needed a boost after so many ballads.
That said, the other bonus track is a live recording of "Smackwater Jack" from 1973. This version features just King and her piano and as a result is an improvement over the studio take. King sounds more at ease, and in stronger vocal shape, than she did on the original. However, it does have its shortcomings, namely on the musical interlude where her piano-playing, despite its boogie-woogie flourishes, seems light as a feather without a backbeat to prop it up.
Tapestry had Carole King primed for the rest of the decade. It was the best selling album of its time, until Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours came along. The singer-songwriter movement was in full bloom and she was a ready-made leader of that genre. Why she was unable to capitalize on the massive success of this album is hard to comprehend, but it should take away nothing from the majesty that is Tapestry.
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