Carole King: Tapestry

Carole King

As the distance between 1971 and the present grows further with each passing year, Tapestry is one of those few albums that doesn’t seem to age. Like a perennial rite of passage, there’s always a new generation of listeners discovering Carole King’s hallowed melodies. It might sound trite, but Tapestry is a timeless record. No matter when someone picks up the album, it’s always a thrill to experience Carole King feel the earth move for the first time.

With its initial 302-week chart run beginning in 1971 and worldwide sales tallying 24 million to date, Tapestry is ingrained in the public consciousness. The songs are ubiquitous, especially since Aretha Franklin and James Taylor keep “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “You’ve Got a Friend”, respectively, alive in their own concert repertoires. Tapestry has already lived numerous different lives on CD, including a tribute album. What does the new legacy edition of Tapestry tell us that we don’t already know? Is yet another reminder about Tapestry‘s greatness really necessary?

The premise of the two-disc Tapestry: Legacy Edition is “yes”, there are plenty of reasons to revisit King’s masterpiece. (Could Tapestry: Remixed be far behind?) Disc One features the original 12 songs that are forever etched into the lexicon of pop songwriting. “So Far Away” and “Home Again” are still touching paeans to the hearth. “Where You Lead” and “Smackwater Jack” still swing soulfully along. Lou Adler, who produced Tapestry on his Ode label, provides a detailed track-by-track commentary while writer Harvey Kubernik lionizes the album in an illuminating essay. Based solely on the generous amounts of liner notes and photos, this is leaps and bounds beyond what the 1999 re-mastered edition of Tapestry offered, rendering this latest re-release the most thorough exploration of the album yet.

The spotlight on Tapestry: Legacy Edition really belongs on Disc Two, however. Dubbed Live Tapestry, the second disc gathers together the various “threads” of Tapestry from three different concerts, two in 1973 (during King’s Fantasy tour) and one in 1976. With the exception of “Where You Lead” — King apparently didn’t perform the tune live at the time — Live Tapestry features King alone at the piano performing each song from the album. Adler enthuses that these performances come closest to what he heard on her original demos.

How essential is Live Tapestry? For fans of the studio album, it offers insight to how these songs were conceived by King. Hearing her pound out the keys and emoting with that slightly raspy voice almost feels like an intrusion on some private experience. Stripped of studio muscle, King holds her own. The songs are strong enough without a lot of ornamentation and it’s a treat to hear how differently King phrases such well-known lyrics with an attentive audience. (Listen for her reaction to a fan’s “tribute” on “Natural Woman”.)

Tapestry Live is a very welcome companion to the original album. The performances are not dressed up, emphasizing the rough texture of King’s voice. It cracks and quavers but those qualities actually endear the listener even more to the songs. On occasion, the live cuts best the album versions. To these ears, the curious harmony of Carole King, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell on “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” just never quite congealed. To hear King sing, “But will my heart be broken when the night meets the morning sun?”, with nothing but piano accompaniment, is the most intimate expression of the song’s gentle plea ever recorded. Conversely, King creates a whole rhythm section on her piano during “Smackwater Jack”, a definite crowd-pleaser.

In fact, part of what makes Tapestry Live such a unique listening experience is hearing the audience’s vociferous response to every song, not just the most well-known. The first chord of “You’ve Got a Friend” elicits as much of a munificent approval from the audience as “Beautiful”, ostensibly an album track. Tapestry was not about singles. It was about every track mattering and becoming emblazoned into the listener’s psyche. The album’s marathon chart run proved the public’s insatiable appetite for these songs. How many albums can you say that about in 2008?

Probably the most remarkable thing about Tapestry is how no one could have predicted the extent to which it would touch millions of lives. Though Carole King was known within industry circles as a brilliant songwriter, her debut album, Writer (1970), made only the faintest of ripples throughout the record-buying public. That the Brooklyn-born King uprooted and settled in sunny Laurel Canyon during the gilded age of the singer-songwriter and would so honestly touch on the truths of so many lives is the defining legacy of Tapestry. Nearly four decades later, it continues to mirror the universalities of the heart. Tapestry: Legacy Edition is the definitive genuflection. We all feel the earth move.

RATING 10 / 10