When Touch the Sky debuted in 1979, it didn’t crack Billboard’s Top 100. This was quite a comedown for an artist whose Tapestry (1971) had helped define the era of the singer/songwriter. Some reviews have suggested that genre had simply come and gone to be replaced by the rising tide of disco, punk, and new wave. But these notions don’t account for the ongoing success of the likes of James Taylor, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, or Bob Dylan. Being out of step wasn’t and isn’t enough to explain the album’s failure.
For whatever reason, Touch the Sky was never before released on CD, so now it’s possible to hear the album anew and consider how it holds up some 30 years later. At first listen, it certainly seems a product of its time, but more a reflection of what others were doing than cutting any new ground of its own. Recorded in Austin with backing players culled from Jerry Jeff Walker’s band, publicity for the disc suggests the album was King’s foray into the then popular vogue of country/rock. On some tracks, that claim fits well enough. On others, the material seems workmanlike, with King skimming the surface of her capabilities.
The opening song, "Time Gone By," is one of the best on the set. It’s pure folk/rock, commenting on what was lost after the spirit of the ‘60s had ended. King’s lyrics remember when “peace and hope and dreams were high” before the clouds became dark and selfish ego took hold. Then, King does her level best to become a country girl. Featuring the pedal-steel guitar work of Leo LeBlanc, "Dreamlike I Wander" is a simple honky-tonk cry in your beer moan about a lover who didn’t come home.
The jaunty "Walk With Me" is equally as simplistic, asking you to “walk with me although I may not have a lot to say.” Kicking up the pace a tad, "Good Mountain People" is country/rock about what you’d expect: mountain people know how to have a rocking good time.