Into White

Carly Simon

Columbia, 2006

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Some voices are timeless.  Whether because of their instant recognizability, or because of the choices the singer makes -- songs, phrasing, arrangements -- they seem to develop a kind of easy, almost familial familiarity as the years go by.  They could sing the alphabet, and by the time they got to “c” you’d be saying to yourself, “That’s ____” -- and you’d be right.

The fill-in-the-blank in this case is Carly Simon.  After a nearly 40-year career that has spanned folk, singer-songwriter pop, torch songs, soundtracks and a “family opera,” she’s made another album of songs that, while there’s a loose theme to them, essentially hang together on the strength and character of her rich, liquid-honey voice.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Into White is a collection of standards, in a sense -- but standards as judged by the singer, not a producer or any consensus of critics.  From folk traditionals (“Oh Susanna”) to reggae classics (“Jamaica Farewell”) to lullabies (“I Gave My Love a Cherry”) to Lennon & McCartney (“Blackbird”), on this 14-track disc Simon puts a shine to one well-loved nugget after another from the last 100 years of popular music.

The question is -- as always on a disc dominated by well-known covers -- can Simon actually bring anything new to a song as iconic as “Scarborough Fair”?  Could anyone?  You could call her version “Simonized” and it would be both true and a compliment; her rich, earthy tones meld with the plucked acoustic, piano, and flute in a sublime meditation.

The same is true of the equally celebrated “Blackbird,” “Over The Rainbow” and “You Are My Sunshine” -- you already know the words and the tune, but the chance to hear Simon interpret them creates instant appeal.  She doesn’t simply give them rote readings, though -- “Oh Susanna,” for example, gets livened up with a fresh, surprising arrangement featuring kalimba and flute.

Not all of the covers are obvious ones, though.  In an audacious move, Simon takes a swing at ex-husband James Taylor’s gorgeous ballad “You Can Close Your Eyes” and knocks it clean out of the park, setting it to piano and singing it in a trio with her and James’ children Ben and Sally -- an intensely poignant sonic gene-pool mash-up.

Simon mixes in a few originals that are solid and reach for that “standard” feel, but can’t match the interest and resonance of the covers.  She might have been better off carrying the theme 100% of the way through.  The nice thing about being at the stage in your career that Carly Simon is, though -- i.e. a timeless icon -- is that you can pretty much make the album you want and leave the neurotic second-guessing to critics like me.

Rating: B+

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© 2007 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.