Live At The Troubadour

Carole King & James Taylor

Hear Music, 2010

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It’s tough to come up with a new twist on your music when the words “the legendary” are commonly attached to your name -- but Carole King and James Taylor, by rekindling a 40-year-old musical partnership, have managed to pull it off. 

Legendary Brill Building songwriter King began singing her own songs during the same era when troubled young acoustic troubadour Taylor caught his first break, getting signed to Apple Records in 1968.  A couple of years later, Danny (Kootch) Kortchmar, Taylor’s longtime friend and guitarist, introduced the two.  The end result was a series of memorable 1970 and 1971 shows at LA club The Troubadour, where the two artists sat in on one another’s songs, and a trio of studio albums that made history. 

Taylor’s Sweet Baby James and Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon featured King on piano, not to mention a raft of classic JT tracks from “Sweet Baby James” to “Country Road” to King’s own “You’ve Got A Friend.”  Returning the favor, Taylor played guitar and sang harmony on the album King was working on at the time, a little LP called Tapestry.  You may have heard of it; it stayed in the charts for an unprecedented six years, and was the biggest-selling album of all time for more than a decade, until Michael Jackson’s Thriller came along.

The pair talked many times over the years about renewing their musical partnership, but their busy professional and personal lives always intervened until the stars finally aligned in 2007, when the Troubadour celebrated its 50th anniversary.  King and Taylor were the headliners that night, reuniting not just with one another, but with the remarkable band they shared on the aforementioned albums, made up of guitarist Kortchmar, bassist Lee Sklar and drummer Russ Kunkel.

This CD/DVD documents the 2007 reunion, and was issued just as the duo embarked on their 2010 globe-trotting “Troubadour Reunion” tour. It must be said that what’s special here isn’t simply hearing these songs again; just about every person who’s bothering to read this review has heard these songs, many of us hundreds of times.  What’s special here is that unless you were present at the Troubadour either in 1970-71 or again when these tracks were recorded in 2007, you have probably never heard Carole King and James Taylor singing harmony for one another on song after song after song.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The duo, whose friendship has endured over the decades to the point where they more or less finish one another’s sentences (spoken or musical), are in fine and generous form, trading songs from the very start, and focusing on tracks from the era which saw them first join forces.  Opening with the infrequently-heard “Blossom” from 1970’s Sweet Baby James disc, Taylor eases the crowd into the mellow vibe, his acoustic supported only by King’s lyrical piano line.  King’s “So Far Away” similarly features James adding lilting acoustic guitar accents to her classic number.

Then the band joins in for a quartet of classic numbers, first Taylor’s “Machine Gun Kelly” (written by Kortchmar) and “Country Road,” followed by King’s “It’s Too Late” and a particularly snappy “Smackwater Jack.”  Taylor’s hymn-like “Something In The Way She Moves” (which he reminds the audience was the song that got him signed) forms the perfect lead-in to one of the highlights of the set.  “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” is a gorgeous, moving piece when King sings it solo; when the pair sing it as a duet it becomes something transcendent, a musical moment that you feel privileged to hear.

From there it’s a ride through the classics as Taylor and King trade familiar nuggets like “Fire And Rain” and “I Feel The Earth Move,” building for the big finish.  The final trio are stunners all.  Hearing these two good friends – both of whom have experienced their share of heartbreak – trade verses on a song that has served them both so well, King’s "You’ve Got A Friend,” is inherently special.  “Up On The Roof” is a song King co-composed with Gerry Goffin for the Drifters, and has been a staple of Taylor’s live shows for years.  Amazingly, the pair manages to trade verses on it even though they sing the song in a different key; that’s what having a crack band (and an adoring crowd) behind you permits.  The closer is the counterpoint to “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” as the duo harmonizes on Taylor’s sublime ballad “You Can Close Your Eyes,” their voices intertwining magically, a lullaby for a traumatized generation.

King’s voice has lost some power with age and you can hear the effort in her vocals at times, but it’s always been a voice rich with character, more rough edges than silk, and no one could possibly know the nuances of these songs better.  Live At The Troubadour is the chronicle of not just one night, but forty years of friendship and musical brother/sisterhood.  Taylor and King virtually co-invented the singer-songwriter genre with their introspective, insightful work, and their mutual respect and affection, not to mention musical rapport, shines though on every note of this historic and often compelling album.

Rating: A

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