Sunday, April 05, 2015

Kat's Korner: What The Bedroom Tapes reveal

Kat:  Let's get the bad news out of the way.

"Grandmother's House" and "When Manhattan Was A Maiden" are not closers.

Singer-songwriter Carly Simon's re-releases her album The Bedroom Tapes on Monday, April 6rh.

The album's a classic and I noted it December 31, 2009 in my "The decade in music."

The good news is the album sounds crisper in re-release than it did in 2000.

And more good news, the two bonus tracks aren't bad songs.

They both fit and enlarge the mood.

And I get that Carly's tacked them on after the original eleven tracks that made up The Bedroom Tapes to provide the album's integrity.

But "In Honor Of You (George)" remains an album closer.

It's a gorgeous song and serves as a wonderful benediction.

Putting the two tracks after "In Honor of You (George)" is like Carly closing a concert with "Anticipation" and coming back out on stage after to encore with "The Best Thing."

I love "The Best Thing" and still play that song on the piano to this day.  ("The Best Thing" is a song Carly wrote and recorded for self-titled 1971 album debut.)   But it's not something you close with or use to follow up "Anticipation

"Grandmother's House"  plays with the tensions always at the heart of the folktale Little Red Riding Hood.  I would synch it after "Big Dumb Guy" or "Cross The River."  As for the more gentle reflection that is "When Manhattan Was A Maiden," I'd have placed it after "We Your Dearest Friends."

Again, she was probably attempting to keep the album's original integrity and to tack the two tracks on as the bonus features they are.

My negative criticism of the album is minor and limited to that.

And you can even call my comments "carping" and I won't disagree.

Because The Bedroom Tapes really is a masterpiece.

From the opening where Carly's singing "On a perfect night, where secrets light up the sky, like fireflies do" over music that sparkles light a star filled sky and then the music gets sultry, she's captured a moment in the way that only Carly can.

She's always been a sexual artist.

It's caused problems such as when Sears refused to carry Playing Possum because of the supposedly outrageous album cover or when songs like "Waterfall," "Look Me In The Eyes" and "After The Storm" from the same album were a little too frank for some critics.

On her debut album, she was singing "Dan, My Fling" and if you weren't getting the point by 1972, she helpfully offered "I'm no virgin" in "Waited So Long."

Carly was never a girl in her recording career.

She was always a woman.

A sensual woman with a flair for the erotic.

It's why so many straight men lusted after her -- her album covers were staples in male college dorms -- and why so many of us -- straight women, gay women, gay men -- wanted to be her.

The ultimate message of Carly's music is that there are difficult moments but there are also enriching ones and, in song after song, she's chosen to embrace life.  "You're So Vain," for instance, finds her feeling a certain gratitude that the vain male is "with the wife of a close friend" and that he is for her now just "clouds in my coffee."  Or in "We Just Got Here," the lived in nature of experience, the way each moment is key to what lies ahead.  In another songwriter's hands, for instance, that song could have been about nothing but looking in the rear view mirror.  Instead, Carly's able to marvel over the present and prepare for the future.

She is truly one of our most gifted songwriters while still remaining one of our most underrated ones.

Yes, she's won Grammys, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.

But the level, skill and quality of her song writing still seems to sail past many.

That's what was so great about "Son of a Gun," the song she did with Janet Jackson and Missy Elliott a year after The Bedroom Tapes.  The song utilized the chorus of "You're So Vain" as well as the song's strutting open but, more than just that, Janet's new lyrics got to the heart of the strength and fire and passion that is at the heart of Carly's work.

Before The Bedroom Tapes, Carly was no slouch in the album department.  Anticipation, Playing Possum. No Secrets, Torch, Hello Big Man, Coming Around Again, My RomanceHave You Seen Me Lately? and Letters Never Sent were powerful albums, first rate ones.

But The Bedroom Tapes really was the one that comes out of nowhere and surprises you with just how much mastery one can have over the form.

"Big Dumb Guy" is an erotic number that also manages to address technology -- in fact, it really underscores how quickly tech goes out of date while the primal attraction never does.

"So Many Stars" is a track whose considerable music and lyrics are overpowered by one's awe for the lead vocal.  Carly hits notes that yet again demonstrate she could have made it as a singer alone -- unlike many of her peers (male and female) whose singing required that they write their own songs in order to have a shot at a recording career.

"So Many Stars" may be one of her most impressive vocal since "Life Is Eternal" and "Holding Me Tonight" (Have You Seen Me Lately?).  One.  I'll come back to that.

"Cross The River" is a blend of strong vocals that provide buoyancy to the track and have you singing along to, "If only we could cross the river, we could get a jump-start on life . . ."  Steve Gadd's drumming is the perfect counterpoint to Carly, Liam O'Maonlai, Jill Dell'Abate and The Rankin Sisters vocals.

The Rankin Sisters -- Cookie, Heather and the late Raylene of The Rankin Family -- also provide key background vocals on "Scar" -- a song that took courage to write.

Carly recorded this album at her home -- hence The Bedroom Tapes -- and did it following a period where she didn't think she could write or record anymore.  This was after her breast cancer.  And "Scar" addresses that straight on -- and notes the reaction of one man (Warren Beatty) who wants to know how she is and when she shares "a few of the overall details, He said: That's too bad, And he's never called me again."  She contrasts that with:

A big man will love you
Even more when you're hurtin'
And a really big man
Loves a really good scar

Leading into the powerful chorus:

Cause the dawn breaks 
And it's breaking your heart
There's a wise woman
She sits at the end of the bar
She says: Look for the signs
You won't have to look far 
Lead with your spirit and follow
Follow your scar

And that could have been the crowning moment of the album.

It's powerful, it's honest and it's so damn musical.

Among all her songwriting peers, Carly truly does excel at prosody.

But she manages to top herself -- in vocals and in songwriting -- with "In Honor Of You (George)" -- her tribute to George Gershwin that blends George and Ira Gershwin's "Embraceable You" with new lyrical and musical drive and tension provided by Carly.

It's a crowning achievement of an excellent album.

The good news is that Carly's gone on to create strong work but The Bedroom Tapes can still surprise with its passion and excellence.

At The Third Estate Sunday Review last month, we noted:

Carly's album was released May 16, 2000 -- fourteen days after it was announced Clive Davis was being forced out as the president of Arista.  
Carly's album was lost in the shuffle.

Don't pass up your chance to catch up on a masterpiece you may have missed.