Carole King Music
Released: December 1971
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 44
Certified Gold: 12/9/71
Anyone who failed to follow up an album that had sold four million copies with a very similar album would have to be either a fool or Bob Dylan. Carole King is neither, and her new album Carole King Music, follows with gingerly tread in the footsteps of Tapestry. The spirit of her music remains warm and strong, her lyrics still carry personal messages of friendship and loyalty, and the same musicians are playing in back of her. Despite the similarity between the two albums, the songs on Carole King Music are not as immediately likeable and the new album doesn't have its predecessor's sure, unified sense of style.
Carole King is the most naturally, unaffectedly black of our white pop stars -- black in her phrasing, in the feeling of the songs she composes, and in her deep love of rhythm and blues. So it is fitting that she launches the album with "Brother, Brother," a song that appears to be a response to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." Carole evokes the musical feeling of Marvin's song with bongos and a beseeching vocal. Marvin had sung "Brother, brother, there's too many of you dying." Now a white sister takes up the same "Brother, brother" refrain and adds her heartfelt assent: "You have always been so good to me/ And though you didn't always talk to me/ There wasn't much my lovin' eyes could not see/ And I don't believe you need all your misery." Whether Carole is speaking to some generalized conception of blacks in America or to one raceless individual, her lyric stands as beautiful.
I find that my second-favorite song on the album, one I listen to again and again, has the simplest arrangement. "Song of Long Ago," in which Carole celebrates the ripening of accidental friendships, features Carole on piano over a spirited bongo and bass bottom, with James Taylor filling in a rich middle on his acoustic guitar. Suddenly Carole has complete control again. The piano punctuates her vocal phrasing, the vocal stands out, and once again we hear what an instinctively brilliant singer she is -- a fact disguised by some of the other arrangements. When James weaves his voice with hers, it makes for a meaningful, touching duet, not just background filler.
But there are also whole songs that are disappointments -- throwaways like "Sweet Seasons" and "Back to California." And one of the lowest points on the record is the follow-up to "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" -- another Goffin-King classic, "Some Kind of Wonderful." Carole gave the Shirelles some real competition in her version of "Will You," but the Drifters' crisp "Some Kind" has it all over Carole's rendition, which is drenched in soupy background vocals.
Like Tapestry this album is rich in both emotion and melody, and in its almost encyclopedic view of friendship it surpasses most popular music. There is no question about the value of the content, only the validity of the style. Carole now has to choose between simplicity and complexity -- between piano-cum-combo and a full scale orchestra. The middle ground where she is now standing isn't good enough for her and the sooner she moves on the better. Meanwhile, "Brother, Brother," "Song of Long Ago," and "Surely" provide new evidence that Carole King continues to be one of the major individual talents in pop music today.
- Tim Crouse, Rolling Stone, 1/20/72.
Carole King brings a wistful toughness to romantic-pop music that I would guess is a combination of her personality, her artistry, and the combat experience she has had as a professional songwriter for the past ten years. Most of the combat duty was served in New York, and she either moved or fled to California a few years ago -- as did such greatly talented people as Neil Diamond. California is sort of the Argentina of New York rock-and-roll; it can be either a hiding place or a garden to bloom in, and sometimes both. It has evidently given Miss King the peace of mind she needed to become a fine, distinct, individual artist, and she says as much in the closing song ("Back to California") on side two of her new Ode album called, quite simply, Music.
She has several things going for her: even the least of her tunes are capable efforts, and the best are all her own -- no one will ever do them as well as she does, though they could be, are, and will be sung by a great many people. She is at times a pro, and she is one of the few musicians ever to develop a distinctive style in pop piano. One of the pleasures of listening to her is to hear the keyboard accompaniments she gives herself, the tune being played, and the musicans playing with her -- this is a difficult triple play to pull off unless you are very, very good. Her voice might sound like those of a lot of other female singers if it weren't for her phrasing, which I would call both emotional and professional without being at all clinical. Most important, she enjoys music, enjoys making it, and enjoys people around her making it. The music of the title tune here is cheerfully given over to Curtis Amy's flailing sax, and "Back to California" is allotted mostly to Ralph Schukett's fine electric piano. Sidemen simply don't play as well and as freely as they do on this album unless the "lead" makes them feel comfortable, respects them, and gives them lots of room to work.
"Surely," "Brighter," "Carry Your Load," and "Back to California" are the worst of Carole's tunes on this album, but they are better than many people's best -- good, solid craftsmanship. "Song of Long Ago," "Too Much Rain," and "It's Going to Take Some Time" (the last two written with Toni Stern) are the standouts, absolutely first-rate in both composition and performance.
As on the Tapestry album, James Taylor sits in as a sideman and background vocalist. With the exception of a lost bass player, all of Taylor's first group, the Flying Machine (circa 1967), appear as sidemen. Taylor also rode up and down all those New York elevators, and it must be a source of pleasure (and a few sighs of relief) to him, his old band, and Miss King that they did good work in New York, didn't let it kill them, and escaped to California to make it all musically come true. If you haven't ever gotten away to lie easy on a front porch and listen to the waves breaking on Zuma Beach three blocks away, don't worry; this album will take you there.
- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 3/72.
Carol King's words on the back cover best describe the contents of this exciting package: "music is playing inside my head over and over and over again my friend, there's no end to the music." Suggested cuts? After one listen, all twelve will be your favorites. A blockbuster.
- Billboard, 1972.
This is Carole King's third solo album. In years to come it will probably be looked back on as one of those transition LP's that crop up in most artists' careers. 1971 saw Carole move from being a decent writer of pop songs into being a superstar perfomer. Small wonder then that Music is a rather cautious and steady LP.
Most of the dozen songs roll up into a pleasant enough little ball, but fall quite a bit short of the things on Writer and Tapestry. Exceptions: "Carry Your Load," marked by a thoughtful lyric; "Some Kind Of Wonderful," a blast from the past done up with as much energy as the original Drifters version; and "Back To California," the LP's final track and the only one where Carole pulls out all the stops, throws her head back and sings her ass off. Lots of talented folk turn up at the sessions: James Taylor, Merry Clayton, Danny Kootch and Abigale Haness to name a few. Carole's piano playing is precise and often invigorating. But what the record does most is whet the appetite for the next Carole King album. It just might be a great one.
- Ed Kelleher, Circus, 3/72.
Like James Taylor, Carole King is probably full formed and developed now, which is to say that this album is very similar to Tapestry. The songs of course are all new and the treatment very sympathetic. Perhaps she is stressing the performance a little more but it remains a delightful example of a creative performer at peak power.
- Hit Parader, 5/72.
Without the reserve of self-penned standards to draw upon, Music lacked the powerful resonance of its predecessor, Tapestry. Nevertheless, songs like "Sweet Seasons," "Brother, Brother," "Some Kind of Wonderful," and "Song of Long Ago" make this one of her better efforts. * * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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