My introduction to Carole King came in my sixth grade music class way back in 1971. Our teacher tried to interest us in the idea of singing for pleasure by having us sing lyrics contemporary for the time from handwritten charts that she hung on the wall at the front of the class. Sometimes, she’d sit down at the piano and play the song as we sang; other times, she’d put the LP (those vinyl things, kids) on the record player, and we’d sing along with whatever artist she’d chosen to play.
One of the LPs that we just about wore out that year was Carole King’s quintessential pop masterpiece Tapestry. The very first song we sang from that album was “I Feel The Earth Move.” Somewhat more illicitly, since the lyrics were considered a bit inappropriate for eleven- and twelve-year-olds, we knew every word of “Smackwater Jack” and its murderous tale. Thirty-four years later, I still find myself breaking out into a forgetful version of one or both of these songs. I know I’m not the only one, either.
The longevity of Carole King’s pop standards – dare I use that term? – are one of the key points in history that ties those of us over forty back to our childhood. I suppose that’s one of the inviting aspects of her newly released CD, The Living Room Years, a compilation of live performances in three separate venues across the United States: Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis, Massachussetts; Auditorium Theatre in Chicago; and the very famous Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Perhaps the most engaging aspect of this 2-disc set is just how intimate the recordings come across…it would be easy to believe that one was actually in a small bar listening to her play her piano, or, as she puts it to the audience, right there in someone’s living room.
For the most part, the songs are all of the old ones…many of them straight off of the Tapestry album, but with a more comfortable casualness that one might expect if a group of old friends got together to sing at a party. Not every single note is perfect, and there is more than one example of improvisation – but, it’s all fun stuff. There’s no self-aware modifications to the lyrics or the melody itself, it’s just a singer and a crowd having fun together.
This is an excellent CD, available at a fine Starbucks coffee shop near you. I recommend it for your collection and a gentle, warm, comfortable evening with an old friend.