Friday, May 14, 2010

My review of Carole King and James Taylor Live at the Troubadour...

I originally posted this on Epinions.com, but I doubt many people will see it.  It's an excellent album, so I'm going to repost my review here...

As a bonafide child of the 70s and 80s, I've enjoyed music by Carole King and James Taylor for as long as I can remember. I have all of their earliest albums which, as any fan of theirs knows, were often collaborative efforts. Carole King played on a lot of James Taylor's early albums and James Taylor, in turn, helped out Carole King on some of her early hits. Back in November 2007, the two got back together for a concert at The Troubadour, a famous L.A. club where many of the most legendary artists of the 1970s got their start. James Taylor and Carole King originally played at the Troubadour from 1971 to early 1972. At their November 2007 Troubadour concert, they were joined by fellow band members Russell Kunkel, Leland Sklar, and Danny Kortchmar (Kootch). That concert ended with a lot of smiles, tears, and a hell of a CD/DVD set called Live at The Troubadour (2010).

When I came home from my recent vacation, I had an email from James Taylor's Web site alerting me to the album's existence. Naturally, being the Carole King and James Taylor fan that I am, I had to check it out. For $13.99, I could get the CD/DVD set and an MP3 digital download of the CD. It was the MP3 download that made me bite on the deal, since the CD/DVD was just released on May 4th. It wasn't shipping at the time of my purchase and I was eager to hear the album.

The CD/Digital Download

The audio recording of Live at the Troubadour consists of fifteen songs and runs for an hour and three minutes. More than half of the songs were either written or made famous by James Taylor; there are five that are strictly Carole King numbers and one song that was written by Carole King and made famous by both King and Taylor.

The songs

The concert kicks off with "Blossom", a song James Taylor wrote and recorded for his 1970 album, Sweet Baby James. Taylor sings this classic in a lower key, accompanying himself on guitar while Carole King plays piano. I've always really liked this song and it's nice to have an updated version of it. I like Taylor's mellowed out rendition, too... I think I prefer it to the original. The crowd likes it too.

Carole King takes the lead for "So Far Away", a song she wrote and made famous back in 1971 for her amazing album, Tapestry. Carole King still sounds pretty good, considering she's now in her 60s. She plays this elegant song in its original key, reaches for the high notes, and manages to hit them fairly convincingly. While her vocals are not quite as clear as they were in the 70s, they're still impressively strong.

Danny Kortchmar, who wrote "Machine Gun Kelly" for Taylor's 1971 album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, takes the stage to play guitar on an updated rendition of this song. Taylor introduces him along with Leland Sklar on drums and Russell Kunkel on bass. Originally, this song was kind of folksy. Here, it's been turned into a rock song, played in a lower key with powerful guitar rifts by Kootch himself. I think it's an improvement, though I also like the original. The song is fun to listen to anyway, with its warning about listening too closely to the Mrs.

Next comes a stirring version of Taylor's "Carolina In My Mind", a song that Taylor has said is among his favorites. It's one of my favorites too. Taylor's vocals are beautiful on this classic, which is augmented by his masterful acoustic guitar and Carole King's rich piano playing. I think this rendition is one of the best I've ever heard.

Carole King takes the mic again for a very true to form version of "It's Too Late", another huge hit from Tapestry. This song is timeless, with its lyrics about a couple on the verge of breaking up. King plays it in a way that will be very familiar to her fans. Again, I'm impressed by her strong vocals. Kootch, Kunkel, and Sklar give the song a little beef with their plugged instruments and Taylor sings harmony. Kootch replaces the sax solo from the original with a bluesy guitar solo and King follows up with a piano solo. The song is updated nicely, not that it needed it.

King continues with "Smackwater Jack", an uptempo number from Tapestry about an outlaw with a shotgun in his hand. I really like this song and it's a nice change of pace for the album, too. It sounds like the audience might even be clapping along. Listening to the lyrics, I'm reminded of how much simpler things were in the 70s. It's basically a song about a guy who went postal and shot down a congregation. And yet, the melody is kind of bouncy and comic.

Taylor brings down the tempo with "Something In The Way She Moves", a song that he explains got him a record deal with Apple Records, a label owned by The Beatles. Taylor explains that he wrote the song in 1967 and played it for producer, Peter Asher, who is in attendance at the Troubadour concert. This song remains timeless and gorgeous.

"Will You Love Me Tomorrow" is a song that Carole King and ex husband Gerry Goffin wrote together. It was originally made famous by the Shirelles, but I've always preferred King's slower, more heartfelt rendition from Tapestry, which she recreates here with help from James Taylor. The way Carole King plays this song never fails to bring a lump to my throat. It's just beautiful.

James Taylor is back with "Country Road", another well-known song from his 1970 album Sweet Baby James. Danny Kortchmar gives it a facelift with a few subtle strokes of his guitar.

Naturally, Taylor has to perform "Fire and Rain", probably one of his most famous and popular songs. To be honest, there are Taylor songs that I prefer to this one, but I can always appreciate his dramatic lyrics and the sensitive melody. And Taylor's vocals are wonderful and warm on this version.

Taylor kicks off "Sweet Baby James" with the story of how he came to compose the song on a highway. He was on his way home to see his family and his older brother, Alex, was a new father. Taylor wanted to sing a lullaby for the infant, whose name was also James. So he came up with the cowboy inspired song, "Sweet Baby James", a song that has really grown on me over the years. Taylor tells the story with his trademark laidback humor, then sings the song with his equally trademark love and tenderness. King sings harmony and sounds suspiciously like Taylor's first ex wife, Carly Simon.

It's time for a tempo change and King delivers it with a rollicking version of "I Feel The Earth Move". This song brings the house down, as King thunders on her piano. The crowd loves it and so do I. King sounds a little vocally tired at this point, but she gamely carries on with plenty of energy on the piano. I love the updated arrangement, too.

Carole King and James Taylor are both famous for their versions of King's gorgeous ballad, "You've Got A Friend". This song appeared on both Tapestry and Mud Slide Slim. As much as I love James Taylor's music, I actually prefer King's version of this song. But here, it sounds like they combined to make a new collaboration. The style is more like Taylor's version, with a little updating. They harmonize beautifully together and I'm betting that those who were lucky enough to hear this live had tears in their eyes when it was over. I love Carole King's adlib at the end, too.

The collaborative effort continues with "Up On The Roof", another Gerry Goffin-Carole King composition made famous both singers. Carole King and James Taylor team up and sing it in mash up form. They start with Carole King's sunny, hopeful rendition from Tapestry, then switch to Taylor's darker, more romantic version from his 1979 album Flag. I like Taylor's version better, but it's definitely cool the way they arranged this for fans of both, switching back and forth as if one might switch radio stations.

The concert ends with Taylor's sweetly romantic "You Can Close Your Eyes", a song from Mud Slide Slim that was never a hit, but remains a favorite. Taylor begins with an intricate guitar solo and he and King sound beautiful together. Once again, King sounds a lot like Carly Simon when she harmonizes. Imagine if Carly were on stage, too... wow!

The DVD

The DVD that comes with this set is basically a film of the concert, which is a real treat to watch. Carole King and James Taylor both look fabulous, as do Kortchmar, Kunkel, and Sklar. It's great to see how the band interacts with each other after all the time that's passed. There's a little background information included about the Troubadour club, which has apparently stayed the same for as long as it's been around. King and Taylor describe it as a very nurturing place for musicians. I can imagine it must have been magic to play there and to catch a performance.

Booklet

This CD/DVD set comes with a booklet with pictures of the artists as well as memories contributed by Carole King and James Taylor.

Overall

I think this set is a must have for people who love music by Carole King, James Taylor, or both. Even though most of these songs have been played, revamped, recorded, and repackaged a number of times over the years, somehow Taylor and King managed to make them fresh again with this recording. And it really is a magical thing to see and hear these two legends playing together again. Fortunately, this concert was so successful that Taylor and King have taken their act to the road and are touring this summer. Until you can get to a venue to see them, I recommend getting a taste by purchasing Live at the Troubadour.

For more information: http://troubadour-reunion.com/
Obligatory Amazon.com plug... It really is worth buying, though you can get it cheaper at the above link.

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