City Streets was yet another commercial dud for Carole King at the time of its release in 1989, which was unfortunate, as it was her best studio album of the last 30 years.
King had returned to the recording studio after a six-year absence with the likes of Eric Clapton, Max Weinberg, Michael Brecker, and Branford Marsalis in tow. The ’80s synthesizer sound was under control unlike on her last studio album, Speeding Time. Rudy Guess, who would later support her as a guitarist, co-produced the release along with her. They proved to be a good match as what emerged was an album of modern, melodic, catchy and lyrical music.
The highlight is the title track, a Top 20 hit on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart, and a ringing rock song with Eric Clapton providing its guitar solos and Michael Brecker on the saxophone. This may not be Clapton’s best solo but the tone of his guitar playing on the song’s closing solo is perfect. It has to be the way he bends the strings, as the sound he produces just does not get any better. Even the video, which is over 20 years old now, remains enchanting (even with King’s big hair) as Clapton puts on a show at the end.
Eight of the album’s 10 tracks were over four minutes in length with three clocking in at around five minutes. These extended tracks gave King the time to develop her music and tell her stories, which only heightened the listening experience.
“Ain’t That The Way” is a bluesy, slower tune and the second of two tracks on which Clapton provides guitar support. “Midnight Flyer,” written with former husband and writing partner, Gerry Goffin, is an uptempo, hook-laden rocker. “Homeless Heart,” on which she shares the vocals with daughter Sherry Goffin, makes you ache as she adds some sensitive piano work. While ”Down In The Darkness” features King delivering an especially soulful vocal. The combination of ballads and rockers adds to the overall pleasure as they complement each other and never let the album drag.
City Streets remains a positive effort, both musically and lyrically. It also remains Carole King’s best effort of the last three decades, and is well worth tracking down. It holds many pleasant surprises.