Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Kat's Korner: Carole King's Tapestry


Piano lessons. Mrs. Lee. Old. Really old. Never smiled.

Waxy hair, waxy teeth. Breath that could drop a rhino.


Me and Sally were on time. It was Mrs. Lee that was late.

We were supposed to be working on Fantasie in G MajorD. 1.

Sally was showing me this instead.

It's easy, she said.

And it was.


We were in the auditorium.

Playing the only part we knew.

The part Sally's older brother had shown her.

Over and over.

We got 30 minutes of time.

15 for Sally, 15 for me.

Unless we were working on a piece together.

By the clock on the wall, Mrs. Lee was 20 minutes late.


"SALLY! KAITLIN! What are you doing!"


"That's not what you're supposed to be practicing"


"Stop that!"

I looked at Sally. Sally looked at me.


We were kicked out of piano.

Story always makes me smile. Know what else makes me smile? Mrs. Lee's long gone and moved on to an afterlife where I'm sure she continues to torture and dampen spirits. Meanwhile Carole King's Tapestry is still in print.

Oh Kat, of course it is. It's one of the biggest selling albums of all time. Yes, that's true, but,dig it, I'm talking about something else here.

Call it a "songbook" or call it a "folio" but for almost 34 years now, Tapestry has remained in print.

Do you know how rare that is?

Want to find Thriller in songbook? Check a garage sale. Want to find Tapestry? Get over to Hal Leonard, your local music store, your local Tower . . .

The album opens with "I Feel the Earth Move" -- the song Sally and I refused to stop playing much to Mrs. Lee's dismay.

It's an energetic song and one that starts the album off strong. I'd forgotten just how strong the album was until Eli & Ruth were both asking for this review.

I listened to Tapestry for the first time in I don't know how long.

If you have Tapestry and you were alive in the 70s as an adult or child, put on the album right now. Well, not right now, finish reading the review. But after.

Put it on and see if the album isn't more than just a pleasant reminder of a time past.

Tapestry came out when Tricky Dick was in office. These days we have the Bully Boy. Not a great deal has changed, has it? We're fighting another war of choice. The country's discontent is growing.

Listen to the album for right now, not as a relic. See if you don't pick up on some themes.

I do feel the earth move under my feet when I continue to encounter college and high school students joining in the peace movement, fueling it.

Earth's moving but you won't hear about it in the mainstream. We're still the dislocated country King wrote and sang of in "So Far Away." There are so many wonderful moments in each song.

Personally I like the way her voice dips on "soon" in "Way Over Yonder."

I love the way the backing voices of Joni Mitchell and James Taylor blend and offer support on "Will You LoveMe Tomorrow." And the quarter note rest right after "morning sun" always grabs me as the melodic song stops for a moment. It fits too. Maybe it was there in the Shirelles original version, I didn't notice it.

But when the narrator is singing doubts and asking questions such as "But will my heart be broken/ When the night meets the morning sun" that break is needed before the third verses desperate hopes come in.

The arrangements on this album are amazing. And at the center of the album is Carole King's voice and piano skills.

There's a freshness to her voice (even now) that's distinct and draws you in. It's not the most perfect voice, but that's part of the charm.

When someone wants to begrudgingly admit to Tapestry's importance as an album, they usually follow it up with, "But she never did another Tapestry."

Well who did?

It's a benchmark, a milestone.

Coming on the heels of the loss of the three J's (Janis, Jimi, Jim) and a country in conflict with not only another nation, but also with itself, King's songs of hope in the face of loss reached a receptive audience.

Over the years, some have slammed the album as a retreat. Believe that was Dylan's New Morning. Who of the big names other Jefferson Airplane was still rocking it's radical ass by 1971?

Tapestry can be seen as an embrace of the world around and the changes that are coming whether we want them or not. There's not a "Life in the Fast Lane" track on the album. There is mourning and celebration and embracing life and loss.

One of the key lines may be "Once he reached for something golden and hanging from a tree/And his hand came down empty" ("Tapestry"). Could you have lived through the late sixties and early seventies without having felt that? Could you have looked around you honestly and still believed what you were taught in US history was reflected in the chaos around you?

Tapestry is a snapshot of the period. It also still has something to say today. That's because Tapestry can be summed up as wounded and hopeful. Crosby, Stills & Nash fans can think of it as "Hopelessly Hoping."

Chaos and change abounds on the album: "It's Too Late," "Smack Water Jack," "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." Hopes there too: "Way Over Yonder," "Home Again," "Where You Lead," "You've Got a Friend."

And through it all:

I have often asked myself the reason for the sadness
In a world where tears are just a lullaby

Sad but true, we really haven't come that far from that time period.

And Carole King's wounded, hopeful voice is matched by some passionate and strong piano playing. That's why the folio/songbook remains in print. But the piano did something else,
it brought King into the band. As with Aretha Franklin, King's piano playing made her more than just another "girl singer" standing in front of a microphone while the band played behind her. It gave her a power that a lot of people hadn't seen before for a woman in popular music.


Can you hear that in "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" (after "you came along to claim it" and "'til your kiss helped me name it") and not notice it? The impassioned playing adds to the strength of each song. The power of this album comes not only from the wonderful songs and the very human voice (which is actually quite touching), but also from the powerhouse playing. When the songs are remade, too often the "slow" songs come off tepid and the "fast" ones come off mechanical. That's because, unlike those who would follow, King knew exactly where to punch in and where to take it down a notch. Throughout Tapestry, she plays like a master, finding just the section to add weight to and just the moment to find stillness. Organic was the word tossed around when this album spent years on the chart and it's a word those attempting to remake some songs would do well to think about. Everything on each track adds to the mood. And the themes (lyrical and musical) create the, well, tapestry that is Tapestry.

So if you've never heard the album, track it down. If you've heard it before, listen again. You'll find not only something that speaks to today but also something that brings back memories.

For me, I'll always think of that early rebellion against the autocrat Mrs. Lee.