Sunday, November 22, 2015

Kat's Korner: Carly's Songs From The Trees

Kat: Quick, what's the worst great album?

If you had to puzzle over that one, you're probably not a Carly Simon fan.

If you're a Carly Simon fan  COMING AROUND AGAIN probably fell right off your lips, tumbled immediately off of your tongue.

Carly's monumental comeback is one excellent track after another (the weakest is the predictable melodrama Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance are known for writing but Carly gives it some life with an excellent vocal).  Stevie Wonder joins her for her cover of "As Time Goes By" and Roberta Flack drops some strong vocals on "All I Want Is You."  With "All I Want Is You," Carly writes and co-writes some classic hit singles which also include "Give Me All Night," "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" and the title track.

More than that, you have "Do The Walls Come Down" -- the debate there is whether it's the finest song she's ever written or just her finest vocal or both?

So what's the problem, you ask?

It's a great album.

But, like 1988's GREATEST HITS LIVE, 1987's COMING AROUND AGAIN is a disappointment on CD due to the sound quality (the worst).

It's like my friend Maggie always says, "It makes me wish I'd kept my cassette."

Me too.

The sound quality of Carly's 1987 studio album and her live album in 1988 suck.

There's no crackle and hiss.

But put either CD in a multi disc player and go from either album to anything -- anything! -- else and you'll realize just how muffled the sound on Simon's two discs are.

By 1990, when Carly would release both MY ROMANCE and HAVE YOU SEEN ME LATELY?, Arista would have its act together.

But all this time later, even with both COMING AROUND AGAIN and the live album continuing to sell, Arista (which really no longer exists) has never remastered the discs.  (The DVD LIVE FROM MARTHA'S VINEYARD has perfect sound quality -- this HBO broadcast concert provided the 11 tracks for GREATEST HITS LIVE.)

Disc one of Carly Simon's latest SONGS FROM THE TREES drives the sound issue  home with track eight "Two Hot Girls On A Hot Summer Night."

As you enjoy this poignant and whimsical tale, as you relate to it, you still -- if you're a Carly fan -- have to gnash your teeth as you grasp that this is how it should sound on COMING AROUND AGAIN -- how the whole album should sound.


SONGS FROM THE TREES is Carly's new collection, a double disc feature which showed up last Friday, days ahead of the Tuesday release of her memoir BOYS IN THE TREES.  It's full title is SONGS FROM THE TREES: A MUSICAL MEMOIR COLLECTION.

So what is it?

29 previously released tracks plus two previously unreleased ones.

The sound quality is top notch.

More than that, their play order may provide even the most devoted Carly fan with some new shadings or meanings.

As Ann noted:

I like "Come Upstairs."  It's from the album of the same name -- the album that featured the big hit "Jesse."  But it works differently on this collection then it did on the 1980 album.

That's true of so many of the tracks.

Maybe because this isn't a 'hits' collection.

Yes, "You're So Vain," "The Right Thing To Do," "Anticipation," "That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be," "Mockingbird," "Legend In Your Own Time," "Winkin', Blinkin' And Nod" (with sister Lucy Simon), "You Belong To Me"  and "I've Got To Have You" (included specifically for community member Alice who e-mailed to ask if those of us in the United States know that this remains one of Carly's biggest charting hits in Australia?) are on the collection.

But that's really it for the charting hits.

Otherwise, you're getting some strong album tracks like the heart breaking "We're So Close," "Boys In The Trees" (a favorite of Tori Amos), "His Friends Are More Tahn Fond Of Robin," "Hello Big Man," etc.

For Ann, this was her first time discovering "In Times When My Head Was Together" (from ANOTHER PASSENGER).  For me, outside of the sound quality, the big news was that Carly wrote "From The Heart."

That song first appears on her 1981 album TORCH which features "I Get Along Without You Very Well," "Spring Is Here" and other classic torch songs (plus her amazing performance of Stephen Sondheim's "Not A Day Goes By").  I have the album, sing along with it frequently.  I didn't realize she'd written a song for it, thought it was all covers of torch songs (plus Sondheim).

What about the two new songs?

"I Can't Thank You Enough" was written with her son Ben Taylor and they perform it as a duet.  You'll love it immediately and wish the two would follow Ben Harper and Ellen Harper's lead and make an album together like CHILDHOOD HOME.  While that track was recorded this year, "Showdown" was recorded for 1978's BOYS IN THE TREES.

"Showdown" is a strong track it raises a more interesting issue: How many unreleased Carly tracks are there?  "Sleight of Hand" was recorded for COMING AROUND AGAIN but only showed up as the flip-side to "Give Me All Night" and it's an amazing song.  How many more tracks are there like that?

Some are worth hearing.

Some may not be.

I love TAPESTRY, for example.

But I'll never buy it on disc again.

That's because it's one of the great albums of all time but you can't get it as it was supposed to be.

No, in 1999, it was reissued -- and this is the version you see everywhere -- with two bonus tracks.

"Out in the Cold" just doesn't measure up to the other tracks and the live version of "Smackwater Jack"?  That live version kind of defeats the intimacy Carole King and Lou Adler created with King's TAPESTRY.

They've been doing something similar -- Sony with its Legacy label -- with Laura Nyro's albums.

So I'm not asking for new versions of Carly's albums with new bonus tracks (1985's SPOILED GIRL always had a bonus track of "Black Honeymoon" on its CD and cassette version, though the track was absent from the vinyl version).

But I would loudly and eagerly support a label releasing some of the tracks recorded but never released -- call it ODDS AND ENDS or something similar.

And I know some people are going to make a point to look at the track list for SONGS FROM THE TREES to see if their personal favorites make the cut?

Carly's written a lot of great songs.  She's one of the finest American songwriters of this or any other era.  Just last month, at Third, we came up with a list of our 30 favorites.

That was not an easy piece to do.

We probably spent 4 hours on it and we had loud arguments as we narrowed it down to thirty.

And only one of the non-single tracks we picked made this new collection ("We're So Close").

But SONGS FROM THE TREES is not supposed to be a hits package.

It's supposed to connect you with the songs anew.

And it succeeds.

It has another purpose as well, it's supposed to be a companion piece to the memoir.

I think a lot of people will be reading the book but, in the end, SONGS FROM THE TREES has to make it on its own.

So does it?

Magic 8-Ball says, "You may rely on it."

ben taylor