Blossom, smile some sunshine down my way/Lately, I've been lonesome/Blossom, it's been much too long a day/Seems my dreams have frozen/Melt my cares away...
- James Taylor, "Blossom"
With the Summer of Love over, social and political tensions at a boil, and the specter of the Vietnam War still hovering, the tail end of the 1960s was filled with upheaval. Carole King recognized the national trauma and responded in the only way she knew how: by turning inward and sharing her emotions in music. Much later, she observed that due to the "generational and cultural turbulence...there was a hunger for the intimacy of what we did." Exactly what King and her fellow troubadour James Taylor did was lay their souls bare in song, removing any distance between audience and listener and creating a safe space. Their music might have been labelled "mellow," "sensitive," or "confessional," but such descriptions were far too pat. Taylor and King, along with a close-knit circle of friends including Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon, heralded the era of the singer-songwriter by tapping into a well of their own emotions and communicating those feelings to listeners with similar experiences. When Taylor and King sang "You've Got a Friend," it was less an anthem and more of a reassurance: music as a source of comfort and healing. Almost four decades after Taylor and King began performing together, the twosome reunited for a 2007 concert at their old Hollywood haunt, Doug Weston's Troubadour. With a whole new set of problems plaguing America and the world - and many of the same old ones, too - the time was once again right for the balm their songs provided.
The 2010 release of Carole King and James Taylor's Live at the Troubadour (originally available as a CD/DVD set with the performance in both audio and video formats) has just been revisited as a beautiful, new 2-LP vinyl set by Craft Recordings, with lacquers cut by Bernie Grundman and pressed on heavyweight 180-gram black vinyl at Quality Record Pressing. For those interested in a colorful variant, U.S. retailer Target has a gold pressing. The Craft Recordings store offers an edition with a replica poster.
The November 28-30, 2007 residency didn't only reunite the two artists on the tiny Troubadour stage, but also their original band featuring Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar on guitar, Leland Sklar on bass, and Russ Kunkel on drums. Taylor, King, Kortchmar, and Kunkel all were heard on both artists' major breakthroughs, Sweet Baby James (1970) and Tapestry (1971); Sklar would soon become a close musical confidante on records, as well. Taylor and King couldn't have come from more different backgrounds, he a Boston-born, North Carolina-raised scion of a prominent family who got his big break in England from The Beatles and she a born-and-bred New Yorker who had her first No. 1 hit as a songwriter while she was still a teenager. But when they performed together, they might as well as have been brother and sister. "We're trying to recreate as much as possible when we played here in the early '70s," Taylor quips at one point during the concert, "which we did repeatedly...evidently."
With a setlist primarily drawn from Taylor's Sweet Baby James (1970) and Mud Slide Slim and The Blue Horizon (1971) and King's Writer (1970) and Tapestry (1971), not a single song on Live at the Troubadour is more recent than 1971; the oldest was first recorded in 1960. But they sound as remarkably fresh in 2021 as they did in 2007 and must have in those earlier decades. The live recording captures the wonder of the shows featuring both artists accompanying one another on each other's songs, both musically and vocally, just like they did in days gone by. The same accessible fusion of pop, jazz, blues, soul, folk, and gospel that informed the original recordings was faithfully replicated on the Troubadour stage and reproduced on disc by old friend Peter Asher.
King and Taylor's shared magic, heartfelt rapport, and tight bond of affection are clear from the opening notes of Taylor's "Blossom" off Sweet Baby James, one of a couple "deep cuts" in a set largely populated by some of the most familiar pop songs of the 20th century. (The second is Kortchmar's "Machine Gun Kelly" from Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.) One after another, these songs defined one generation and went on to influence and inspire successive ones: think of Taylor's yearning "Carolina in My Mind" and sweetly euphoric "Something in the Way She Moves" - that last one inspired George Harrison, natch - or King's longing "So Far Away" and gorgeously vulnerable "Will You Love Me Tomorrow." (Credit, too, to Carole's lyricists Toni Stern and Gerry Goffin, respectively.) Age only deepened these consummate performers' interpretations of their early compositions; the harmony between King and Taylor on "Will You Love Me..." is every bit as touching as it was in 1971.
The band cuts loose with extended takes of King's decisive, empowered "It's Too Late," rollicking "Smackwater Jack," and rocking, pulse (and piano)-pounding "I Feel the Earth Move" but tenderly reins it in for the affecting readings of Taylor's "Fire and Rain" and "Sweet Baby James." Both performers can fairly lay claim to "You've Got a Friend" and "Up on the Roof." While Carole wrote both (the former solo and the latter with Gerry Goffin), her fellow troubadour made both his own. His "You've Got a Friend," released concurrently with Carole's and featuring the same musicians, topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971; he calls it "maybe the best pop tune ever written" here and it's hard to argue the point. James' later 1979 recording of "Up on the Roof" remains his final U.S. top 40 hit as a solo artist to date. Their duets here are enormously moving and provide the concerts' collective emotional climax. "Up on the Roof" blends both King's plaintive arrangement with Taylor's more rocking one. His lullaby "You Can Close Your Eyes" then concludes the show, and the album, on an understated, lovely note with both artists' voices gracefully intertwined.
The Troubadour concerts led to a major 2010 arena tour in which King and Taylor pulled off the remarkable feat of performing their music to crowds in the tens of thousands without sacrificing its intimacy and power. Their reunion also inspired director Morgan Neville's film Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter and the upcoming HBO Max documentary Just Call Out My Name, to be directed by Frank Marshall. Craft's vinyl presentation is a loving tribute to these landmark performances. The gatefold sleeve offers both artists' 2010 commentary and also contains a four-page insert with Bill Flanagan's original liner notes. The individual LPs are housed in protective inner sleeves. As originally mastered by the late Doug Sax with Sangwook "Sunny" Nam and cut for this release by Bernie Grundman, the sound is warm and the vinyl quiet.
Fifty years after Tapestry and Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, the resonant, personal yet universal music of Carole King and James Taylor still has much to offer. If this old world starts getting you down, Live at the Troubadour may well lift you up
- So Far Away
- Machine Gun Kelly
- Carolina in My Mind
- It's Too Late
- Smackwater Jack
- Something in the Way She Moves
- Will You Love Me Tomorrow
- Country Road
- Fire and Rain
- Sweet Baby James
- I Feel the Earth Move
- You've Got a Friend
- Up on the Roof
- You Can Close Your Eyes