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A Beautiful Tapestry
Tapestry - Carole King
Member Name: Goonerette89
Tapestry - Carole King
Date: 24/06/12, updated on 24/06/12 (44 review reads)
Advantages: Real emotion, lyrics, raw voice.
Disadvantages: Has been replicated a lot over the years so although it remains groundbreaking, it's less original.
I have listened to this album a lot lately since my laptop decided to wipe out my music and reset itself out of nowhere. I'm prone to disorganisation at home (I tend to be much better in others' homes/workplace, oddly enough) and an example of this was when I lost the memory stick with all my backed up photos, music and documents on so I had to reapply my personal touch to my laptop and rip all my albums. Admittedly I procrastinate too much and thus far I've only managed to put a handful on there but 'Tapestry' by Carole King is one of them. I guess this is one of the first so-called singer-songwriter albums I ever bought as at the time, at the beginning of my grown up music discovery adventure I knew it was a highly rated and influential album. It is also one of the best selling albums of all time; this doesn't necessarily mean it is better than one that doesn't sell or that I was going to adore it but it meant it couldn't be ignored. Thus far, it's sold 25 million copies globally.
I feel like everything about this album has been said in other reviews already so I'll probably keep this short (I think I'm capable of that sometimes!). I think that the first thing I noticed about 'Tapestry' was how simple it was; I don't mean it in a derogatory way - quite the opposite. So often your favourite music grows on you after several listens because it takes awhile to take in the layers of craft within: those tight harmonies, that rhythm guitar, those drum fills, that bassline, hidden meanings in those lyrics etc. With this album, it's quite stripped down and it gives it this warmth and intimacy that makes it, at a risk of being cliche, a perfect rainy day album.
Carole covers subject matter that everyone can relate to and sings with an ethereal quality which lacks any pretension or complication which in turn makes it a universal album. In other words, 'Tapestry' requires less effort than other albums released by female singer-songwriters / vocalists who emerged in the '60s and '70s such as Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Laura Nyro or Nico; whose music require you to be in a certain mood to really enjoy it. I should add that in fairness the same applies to many male singers too. I think this is because of two things: simplicity and emotion. This album keeps things simple, as already stated and Carole King touches on a range of human emotions that we all feel at some point and emotions are, hopefully, universal. Whilst Joni Mitchell is applying clever lyrics, a widely ranging vocal talent and covering many genres of the music spectrum or whilst Nico or Laura Nyro are engaging in dark subject matters and the acquired deep-voiced vocal, Carole King's music is straight, approachable and down to earth. If Charlie Chaplin is no longer funny to people now as he once was, it's because every one has copied his humour to the point it is no longer fresh. So the fact that 'Tapestry' still seems fresh and enjoyable considering all the female singer-songwriters since its release in 1971, and particularly those with a piano, is testament to its timelessness. If imitation is apparantly the truest type of flattery, then this album has been consistently flattered.
I guess Carly Simon would be the obvious comparison to this but course Carole King had already been writing hit upon hit many years prior, and was a seasoned professional at crafting the perfect pop song, particularly with songwriting partner and one time husband Gerry Goffin, with whom she also collaborates once or twice on this album.
'Tapestry' gives you just over half an hour of twelve perfect piano-driven, slightly jazz-tingled pop. Of course if you get the bonus track edition like me you get an extra studio track and some live versions.
All the songs are recorded in more or less the same delivery, they all begin with and retain the piano theme and range from ballads to uptempo cheery pop. The album gives a balanced idea of Carole King's talent at not only interpreting her own songs but also the wealth of material she has created and given to other major artists. On 'Tapestry' you'll get Carole's own rendition of 'You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman' made most commercially famous by Aretha Franklin of course as well as the much recorded 'You've Got a Friend' perhaps made mostly famous by her close friend James Taylor and 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow?', taken into the charts on both sides of the Atlantic by the Shirelles in the '60s. As you'd expect all these songs are given the piano treatment and stripped of their commercial feel, freshened up and instead retain their ethereal quality, like all of the tracks.
'I Feel the Earth Move' kicks off the album, the B-side of single 'It's Too Late'. Both are famous in their own right and have received plentiful airplay; the latter song is the third inclusion on 'Tapestry'. The first track is almost a bouncy reaction to that feeling of being becoming an experienced adult and being touched first time round - I may obviously be wrong!
'So Far Away' is a beautiful near-acoustic ballad featuring James Taylor playing acoustic guitar appregios beneath Carole King's passionate vocal and light piano as she bemoans, "So far away, doesn't anybody stay in one place any more? It would be so fine to see your face at my door," she continues with almost a frustrated nod in the direction of herself, "One more song about moving along the highway, can't say much of anything that's new." The song ends with the wistful flute, an expressive instrument that so often turns up in music of this era. 'Home Again' continues the thematic trend of combining loneliness and travel, again a ballad which slightly lifts the mood of the album though. Carole's voice is particularly passionate at times, "Snow is cold, rain is wet, chills my soul right to the marrow," the drumming is ever so slightly heavier but still gentle and precise. If Bob Dylan changed how male vocals are seen to the masses, perhaps Carole King did the same thing to female vocals. Although easier on the ear than Dylan's voice, she put natural soul and passionate phrasing rather than simply singing pretty or technical prowess at the front.
'Beautiful' is a positive melancholy pop number which gives a nod to a more positive outlook and happier well-being which once again includes her emotional observations of watching the miserable commuters passing her by at the station. During a time that women, and to an extent men too, are made to follow society's unrealistic idea of the perfect image and all look wrinkle-free and perfect, Carole King sings about beauty radiating from within. What makes this a joy is that although an attractive woman, Carole King herself emits the natural all-American girl image. Whether this song would have worked at the time coming from say, Jane Birkin or Brigitte Bardot is an interesting question.
I think this is part of Janis Joplin's attraction too and that is that women tend to relate to other women whose image threatens them less, or in other words an everyday looking women whom they can relate to.
'Way Over Yonder' is where Carole King says she is bound; this song is vague in its meaning but a beautifully epic jazzy number with a light percussion and a sweet saxophone solo, which continues to gently weave in and out of the vocal until the end of the song. I'm not sure where she is singing about but perhaps she is talking about overcoming her troubles and envisaging light at the end of the tunnel. Although not strictly jazz in the purest sense, I always imagine going past a smoky jazz club and someone singing inside.
'Where You Lead' is again an uptempo, basic, bouncy pop song with catchy refrain and light harmonies that no doubt you'll sing along too, where the narrator puts the one she loves ahead of materialistic demands and personal dreams: "I always wanted a real home with flowers on the window seal, but if you want to live in New York City honey you know I will," those harmonies become slightly bouncier and have a light gospel feel. This one seems to be a nod in the direction of the old, soulful three piece girl groups of the '60s, so many of whom partly owe their chart success to Carole King. It's not hard to envisage Carole singing this and being backed up by three ladies throwing back those harmonies behind her whilst grooving in the old fashioned girl group style.
'Smackwater Jack', co-written with Gerry Goffin, leaves the emotional / personal theme of the album and is more of a light piece of storytelling, based upon a Western theme, and it breaks the album up nicely: "You can't talk to a man with a shotgun in his hand," there's those girl group-style harmonies again and some electric guitar. The title track is more or less all about voice and piano, a beautiful ballad which by today's standards may seems slightly twee, lyrically, but I'd argue that is only because in the twentieth century the soul has been sucked out of many things and we're taught anything in the love/emotional sense is tacky, in a world where everything has to have 'edge' (when in reality nothing comes close to real emotion). The track has a slight storytelling theme albeit it possibly remains personal again, this time though the story is spoken in first person by the narrator, about their life being a tapestry made up of good times and bad times and the inclusion of a man.
'Tapestry' ends with Carole King's version of 'Natural Woman' which has gone from massive radio hit to acoustic number promoting the mature woman. I love Aretha's version but it's a talent to write a song that becomes pop chart hit then take it and record it yourself, and reinvent it this passionately and maturely.
I can understand if some people, particularly younger people, would allow this album to go over their heads at first, seemingly because it can seem like a stripped down version of something we listen to all the time these days. Indeed this is lesser produced and very light in comparison. However, like I mentioned about Chaplin's humour as an example, you've got to take into account how original this was at the time of its recording and release, the soul put into it and its association with the so-called everyday person, i.e. the listener. Of course listeners of the time will already appreciate this. :)
This album exudes a certain warmth which comes from Carole King's earthy vocal and lyrics but although personal songs, they are of universal nature so are ambiguous and basic enough to be interpreted personally which is why everyone can relate to them. Everyone knows about the feeling of being down and self depreciating at some point, or having low self esteem. Everyone knows how it feels to have traveled somewhere or have a loved one travel somewhere and be away from them. Everyone knows how it is to have someone make them feel good, even if only in a short space of time. This is what makes this album to timeless because we all understand it.
Although I listen to it a lot myself, there was a lot of progressive rock and lyricists were trying to become more daring during this era (just compare this with what Bob Dylan, Lou Reed or Joni Mitchell were writing about) and with this album, Carole King magically managed to strip things down t bare emotion and step back in time whilst moving the position of the female singer ahead years. Being that this is such a warm, 'rainy day' album at least to me, this is one album that must be great to listen to through the warmth of vinyl. I'd love to own it on a big, beautiful LP. Nonetheless, this currently is available on Amazon itself at £5.17 but a used version is going from a s little as £2.13 on marketplace. I'm also pleased to state it is available on vinyl albeit sadly at over £30 with Amazon.
*I said I was keeping it short but as usual it never happened! Haha :)
~ Tracklisting ~
I Feel the Earth Move
So Far Away
It's Too Late
Way Over Yonder
You've Got a Friend
Where You Lead
Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman
Out in the Cold (a studio track)
Smackwater Jack (live)
Summary: An easy album to listen to which touches on many human emotions.