There’s a rumor that Carly Simon once recorded an entire album with the Band as her backup group. I’ve searched for a bootleg copy at record shows and through BitTorrent files to no avail. Perhaps the mystery record doesn’t really exist. But when the news came that a new release of a previously unissued Carly Simon record was coming out, many fans like myself presumed it would be Simon and the Band. Sadly, this one is not. Instead, MRI/Legacy has produced another historic Simon collection.
Back in Apri1 1995, Simon and a set of talented players performed an unannounced concert in the middle of Grand Central Station. Simon was well-known for her stage fright. This was her first live show in 14 years. It was filmed and aired on the Lifetime network for a television special and released on VHS. MRI/Legacy Recordings, the catalog division of Sony Music Entertainment, has digitized, converted to HD, and re-edited the video. Multi-Grammy award-winning producer and engineer Frank Filipetti remixed the audio. The concert will now be available on CD, vinyl, and digital streaming, along with a limited-edition colored vinyl version.
Simon jokes with the surprised audience between songs. One can tell she is trying to be relaxed on stage, even when she self-consciously talks to herself as she improvises. Her voice never goes off-key when singing, but she doesn’t take many chances. Simon plays her familiar hits from the 1970s (“Jesse”, “Anticipation”, “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be”, “Coming Around Again”) without doing much new with them. The acoustics of Grand Central limit the sonic quality of the recording. The studio versions of the songs sound better, although there are times (such as on “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain”) when she gets in a fresh groove. The crowd helps by clapping along and cheering, but there is an overall politeness to their response.
The ice, so to speak, melts as time passes so that the second half of the show works better than the first half. Her group consistently keeps the energy flowing. Her backup players feature Teese Gohl / Mick Rossi on keyboards, Rick Marotta on drums, Doug Wimbush on bass, Peter Calo / Dirk Ziff on guitar, Peter Calo / Dirk Ziff on guitars, Mindy Jostyn on violin, Eric Bazilian on mandolin, and Marc Cohen / Jerry Barnes / Katreese Barnes on background vocals. They are a far cry from Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, and Levon Helm. Then again, few bands are. There are no standout instrumental performances. This is Simon’s show. She wrote the songs she sings and owns them like a mother with her children.
Speaking of which, the loveliest track is the tender ballad about her mother’s death, “Like a River”. Simon grew up in a very cultured and privileged New York City family. Instead of flaunting or bemoaning her advantages, she expresses the love she felt by detailing the little details of their intimate feminine circle that she, her sisters, and her mother shared.
Presumably, the impetus for this release after more than 25 years was Simon’s recent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Her literate and confessional songwriting opened the door to a host of other artists to do the same, including recent artists such as Olivia Rodrigo and Sara Bareilles, who installed her in the Cleveland rock and roll institution. Simon truly is a gifted and talented artist. Whether this performance needed to be remastered and rereleased at this time, well… until that record with the Band ever gets released, it will have to do.