In pop culture, where music often take a back seat to image, an artist occasionally appears whose approach is so unaffected it’s disarming, and that was very much the case when Carole King released Tapestry in 1971. The PR non-manipulation began with the album cover: a barefoot long-haired woman in bell-bottom blue jeans held a tapestry, her cat nearby as the sun shined through a window. It all seemed so natural—a word that also describes the recording, with lots of acoustic piano, acoustic guitars and an unvarnished sound. The same year Tapestry appeared Carole King recorded a concert at Carnegie Hall, but it wasn’t released until 1996, when it came out on CD. Mobile Fidelity has now put out a remastered 2-LP version of the concert on 180-gram vinyl. As audiophile releases go, this is the flip side of such sonic spectaculars as Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt. Pepper’s or Close to the Edge (all re-released by Mobile Fidelity), which took forever to record, whereas The Carnegie Hall Concert took 71:50—in other words, the length of the concert. Instead of a massive and colorful sound-scape, the appeal here is its realism. The sound quality varies from good to great: Carole King’s voice is miked well, the grand piano comes through clearly, and although part of the charm of the record is its “warts and all” presentation, the performances are mostly polished.
Although Carole King had been in the music business a decade, her participation was mostly behind the scenes, and surely performing without a large band to hide behind at a prestigious concert hall was daunting. The opening number, “I Feel the Earth Move,” feels rushed, plus King doesn’t seem energized enough to tackle it so early in the show. All it takes, though, is slowing things down—which happens by the next song, “Home Again”—for the performance to gel. Carnegie Hall ain’t small or informal, but the solo and duet performances from the first half of the record makes it feel warm and intimate: just Carole King, a piano (or piano and bass), and a few thousand of her closest friends.
When a string quartet joins her for three songs, pop and folk meet chamber music, and the combination works. Vocally this material is impressive, and as usual King sounds more confident on lesser-known material than the hits. Elsewhere the second half of the show seems much more casual, as when she meows while mimicking Danny Kortchmar’s guitar lines during “It’s Too Late.” When James Taylor joins her for “You’ve Got a Friend” and a medley of her Brill Building hits that other artists made famous, the performances are looser while the warmth between two friends is palpable.
The casual vibe disappears with the closer, “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.” Along again, King sings that song like she means it—a solid ending to a performance that fortunately was preserved.