I was a sophomore in high school when I fell in love with Carole King's Tapestry album. Like many folks, I nearly wore out my copy of the cassette, and also like many folks, I have purchased it several times in other formats.
My experience with King's music has been largely personal. As a second generation fan, I grew up with it as a part of the general household music rotation. To me, she was just another one of those folky singers that my parents listened to in the '70s. What I didn't realize until I watched the recording from her 2005/06 tour was how long she's been writing songs, nor how much her songs have been a part of American rock 'n roll for the last four decades.
"I'm gonna play some songs for you
There are so many that I'd like to do
If I don't do them all, I hope you'll forgive me
'Cause I'm 63, and there're so many songs by me
But I'll try to do all I can in the time they give me"
— "Welcome to My Living Room"
During the 2004 election cycle, Carole King performed in a variety of small venues, including a few living rooms, for fundraisers. She discovered that she greatly enjoyed the intimacy and connection with the audience in these spaces, and decided to organize a tour (her first official tour in ten years) with the idea of creating a similar environment for much larger audiences. The end result was the sold-out Living Room Tour, and Welcome To My Living Room, released in October, is the only official video recording from the tour.
The first set begins with King alone on stage, playing the piano. She starts with "Song of Long Ago," from her 1971 follow-up to Tapestry entitled Music. While that album (co-written mainly with Toni Stern) was initially a disappointment to fans wanting another Tapestry, it is now regarded as one of her best. I was not surprised to hear this song begin the set, particularly since it also serves well as an introduction to the concert.
King had also penned a song specifically for the tour, and "Welcome to My Living Room" is the next tune she plays. Unlike many of her more polished tunes, this one is conversational and tongue-in-cheek at times. Having never seen King perform live, I wasn't prepared for the vibrant and funny person who appeared on my TV screen. Despite having taken ten years off from touring, she clearly owns the stage whenever she steps out onto it. I hope the success of the Living Room Tour will encourage her to continue to get out there and perform.
After a few songs in this first set, King is then joined by long-time band mate Rudy Guess, and then later Nashville song-writer Gary Burr emerges to play with King and Guess, as well as to perform a couple of his own songs. In the music business, it takes a strong ego to share the stage with another songwriter/performer like that, and I am pleased to see that King is using her popularity to highlight other songwriters and musicians who deserve some attention as well.
One of the things I love most about singer/songwriters is that they usually have a good story to tell about any one of their songs, and King is no exception. Thankfully, when this recording was edited, they left in a good bit of the on-stage banter and King's introductions to the songs. Before playing "Where You Lead, I Will Follow," King explained that the song had been written shortly before the height of the feminist movement in the '70s, and after then she felt uncomfortable playing it live. When the creator of the Gilmore Girls called and asked to use the song as the show's theme, King and Stern re-wrote the lyrics and King recorded the song with her daughter. This is now the version she plays in her live shows.
One highlight from Welcome To My Living Room includes a three-acoustic guitar version of "Smackwater Jack" with King jumping around and playing rockstar in her brief few minutes away from the piano bench. I was also surprised and amused to see her head-banging on "Love's Been a Little Bit Hard On Me." As with the live CD that was released in 2005, this show recording includes a medley of songs demonstrating the evolution of King's songwriting and work with Gerry Goffin as it moved from '50s rock 'n roll to the '70s singer/songwriter pop that King is best known for. Other highlights from the recording include Guess and Burr trading licks on the guitar solo for "I Feel the Earth Move," the tight a cappella intro to "Chains," and the "Songwriting 101" special feature.
The film quality and editing rides the line between a PBS TV concert and a big-screen hyper-reality, with long cuts and minimal camera movement. In the end, it has more of an "I was at a concert" feel than the audio recording from a different show, mainly because of the aforementioned between song banter that was left in the video and removed from the CD. The audio quality is just right, as well. Often live recordings with audience sing-along songs will sound odd because most of the recording of the audience comes from the performer's microphones. In this case, the mix between the performers audio and the audience was just right, adding to that feel of "being there" when it happens.
If you were among the unlucky who missed the 2004 tour, Welcome To My Living Room is an opportunity to bring it into your own living room. In addition, you get the benefit of several behind the scenes clips and the ability to pause for bathroom breaks. I highly recommend it to new and old fans alike.