Carole King – remasters (review)

Carole King – The Carole King Collection (Rockingale Records remasters)

Simple Things (1977)

Welcome Home (1978)

Touch the Sky (1979)

Pearls: Songs of Goffin & King (1980)

Long out of print Capitol albums released on King’s own Rockingale Records

You might say Carole King had the “seven album itch” – over the course of six years, she’d recorded seven successful albums with producer Lou Adler’s Ode Records, including the global smash Tapestry, which introduced her as an entirely new kind of performer: the singer/songwriter.  While those records are stellar, they all have the same basic sound: warm, earthy production, with piano up front, and everything bathed in punchy compression (Carole was an albums artist, but Adler wanted to make sure if one of her songs crossed into the Top 40, it sounded good on the radio).  After seven LP’s, it was time for a change.

Simple Things was the first record for her new label, Capitol Records, and some of the album is closer to her very first solo effort, Writer, in that several tracks feature a more rock feel.

Especially good is “You’re the One Who Knows,” featuring a Frampton-style talk box guitar solo, accompanying a chugging melody.  “Labyrinth” contains a big chorus with bells that recall some of her early Sixties girl group compositions, yet the verses are far more sophisticated.  “God Only Knows” (not the Beach Boys’ song) has a soulful rock feel that is reminiscent of late Seventies Doobie Brothers.  King had found a new collaborator in husband/songwriter Rick Evers, who co-wrote several tracks on the album.  She’d also hooked up with an excellent Colorado band, Navarro, who gave her songs very sympathetic arrangements.  The background vocals on the record recall Crosby, Stills, and Nash.  There’s still plenty of King’s signature balladry, including the excellent acoustic guitar-led “To Know That I Love You.”  The Latin-infused “Hard Rock Café” would be the album’s only hit, but it wasn’t the strongest choice for a single.

Tragedy would strike before the release of her next album, Welcome Home, as her husband, Rick Evers, would pass away of a drug overdose.  Not surprising, the record has a decidedly haphazard feel, veering from rock (“Main Street Saturday Night”) to psychedelia! (“Venusian Diamond”).  And, there are some places artists shouldn’t go – “Disco Tech” is a half-hearted attempt to cash in on the latest craze.  The album still includes some memorable tracks, including “Sunbird,” its piano/bongos arrangement recalling some of her finest work on Tapestry, and “Morning Sun,” its optimistic tone and great chord progression would’ve made a great single.

A change of scenery was in order for her next LP, Touch the Sky.  King headed down to Texas to work with Jerry Jeff Walker’s band.  Despite it being a good idea on paper, the musicians lack the sympathetic abilities of her previous backup group Navarro, and the record never seems to gel.  The slick production de-emphasizes her piano, which makes no sense at all.  “Move Lightly,” with its funk bass and country guitar, never catches fire.  King’s voice has a slight rasp to it – really, she sounds tired in parts (can you blame her?). “Good Mountain People” has some smokin’ guitar work and spirited piano, while she saved the best for last – “Seeing Red,” with its simple accompaniment of guitar and piano, is moody and one of her best.

After the disappointing sales of her first three Capitol albums, she decided to return to familiar territory for Pearls: Songs of Goffin & King, pairing her again with her former (earlier) husband and successful songwriting partner.  The album opens with a new collaboration, “Dancin’ with Tears in My Eyes,” which goes for a more contemporary feel.  But the order here is nostalgia, with King giving her reading of classic tracks she penned for other artists (the album’s liner notes point out which groups had success with these tunes).  “One Fine Day,” originally a smash for the Chiffons, would be King’s final hit, barely missing the Top Ten.  “Chains,” a song included on the very first Beatles’ album, starts with acapella vocal.  The best track is her take on “Oh No, Not My Baby,” very soulful.  The production is a tad too slick in places (but it was 1980) and some things don’t work that well (particularly “The Locomotion” sounds a little forced), but Pearls did help remind the public that she was responsible for a diverse collection of songs for other artists.  The fact that the same person wrote “The Locomotion” AND ‘Wasn’t Born to Follow” (made famous by the Byrds) shows just how much depth she had as an artist.

Although none of these four albums manage to reach the dizzying heights of her Early Seventies peak, there is still plenty of solid tracks to enjoy here.  –Tony Peters