Of the three new releases of Carole King albums never before available on CD in the U.S. (including 1979’s Touch the Sky), two can be considered companion pieces. For one matter, both Simple Things (July 1977) and Welcome Home (May 1978) reflect the short-lived collaboration between King and her then-husband, guitarist and artist Rick Evers.
Recorded relatively close together, both collections were very different from the singer/songwriter stylings of Tapestry . In addition, both albums were produced by King and Norm Kinney with more of an emphasis on her backing band, with more electric guitar than her earlier solo work had employed. One can only speculate what might have happened if Evers had not passed away of a drug overdose on March 18, 1978, just two months after the Welcome Home sessions had completed.
Simple Things was a transitional album for King, as she left producer Lou Adler and his Ode Records to sign with Capitol. Her debut for that label showcased her new back-up band, Navarro, consisting of Rob McEntee and Mark Hallman (guitars and vocals), Rob Galloway (bass), Michael Wooten (drums), Miguel Rivera (percussion), and flutist/saxophonist/clarinetist Richard Hardy. While other singers and musicians supplemented this core group, including King’s daughters, Louise Goffin and Sherry Goffin, Navarro would return on Welcome Home. As a result, the two King/Evers albums would be notable as much for their performances as the songs they try to bring to life.
Perhaps this is where Evers made his most important contribution to the collaborations, at least musically. After all, we can presume they served as muses for each other’s lyrics, moods, and emotions. While there are only a few songs on Simple Things where the husband and wife share co-writing credit, presumably Evers was influential in the greater use of a slightly heavier rock band sound.
For this set, the pair wrote three songs including the joyful, lushly orchestrated title song. The extended production piece, “Hold On,” features acoustic and electric guitars in one of the punchiest numbers in the King canon. Later, on what was once side two of the original vinyl version, “To Know That I Love You,” is another simple thing, in this case a simple happy love song.
Now, one serious oversight with this package is the most minimal of liner notes, if a list of credits can be called liner notes. As a result, we have no idea who the second lead vocalist on “To Know That I Love You” is despite some important solo verses. the only clue we have is Mark Hallman and Robert McEntee are listed as background vocalist, but apparently not Evers.
Songs credited to King alone include “In the Name of Love,” a lovely love paean appropriately augmented with flute lines between the happy verses. The theatrical “Labyrinth” sounds like it was pulled from a Broadway musical with a slightly dreamy bent. Navarro kicks up the energy and demonstrates their pop rock chops on “You’re the One Who Knows” with some choice electric guitar hooks.
Going back to the early ‘60s roots King helped shape, “Hard Rock Cafe” is a fiesta of Latin percussion and horns with lyrics describing a street party where lonely people should go to play. Likewise, “God Only Knows,” which clocks in at 6:19, opens with some funky riffs followed by a slow middle section and then an upbeat, hand-clapping coda where the singer wonders where you’ll be down the road.
Finally, returning to the piano based melodies King is most associated with, the album closes with two gentle ballads. “Time Alone” is about a woman wanting her man to stay with her. The nicely produced “One” offers some of her typically optimistic lyrics with sentiments like “Each of us is one, all of us together are one.”
On some selections, Navarro has an even more prominent role on Welcome Home, an album that is very similar to Simple Things in the program menu of ballads and borrowings from various musical genres. For example, the overt Beatles tribute, “Venusian Diamond,” is credited to King, Evers, and every member of Navarro.
Likewise, all members share the royalties for “Disco Tech,” and the guessing game for this one remains: Were they being serious or crafting a parody? I admit, I suspect few listeners will either dance or smile or care. This time around, the team of King and Evers is only co-credited for two songs. Evers apparently wrote the lyrics for “Sunbird,” a stand-out ballad about preserving the peacefulness of the natural world. In “Wings of Love,” King sings that she and her man are flying on those wings, filled with the joys the “rainbow people” gave them, whatever that means.
The rest of the album is King trying to touch all the bases. “Main Street Saturday Night” sounds like what might come out of a songwriter’s workshop after the teacher asked everyone to compose a song about cruising. King was clearly channeling The Eagles in “Morning Sun,” with the usual California imagery—mountains, clear skies, being high, and dawn’s comforting light. “Ride the Music” is this set’s ode to the wonders of music perfect for the stage—a melody in need of visuals to illustrate it. “Everybody’s Got the Spirit” is another poppy banquet of clichés.
Two songs sound like King has something personal to say. “Changes” is a typical serene reflection on the loss of friends and the passing of time with “no wrong or right” when people move on. The album’s closing song, “Welcome Home,” sounds like a truly intimate introspection on what King feels like as a person and musician. Should she ever compile a career-spanning retrospective including samples of these albums, this would be the track I’d choose. It’s a song that doesn’t really fit the rest of the collection. To represent the co-writing of King and Evers, I’d pick “Sunbird.” Again, this is as much for the performance as the lyrics and melody the couple crafted.
For King’s next album, Touch the Sky, both Evers and Navarro were gone, although Mark Hallman had become King’s new co-producer. Recorded in Austin, Texas, Touch the Sky employed musicians from Jerry Jeff Walker’s band with a result that was even more workmanlike than the King/Evers recordings.
So, beyond the “lost songs” of Simple Things and Welcome Home and the long unheard performances of Navarro, perhaps these new reissues will re-new interest in the music of Carole King’s second husband whose reputation to date is essentially that of an abusive drug user. Certainly, it would be unfair to attempt any comparison between Gerry Goffin and Evers for a number of reasons. But now that these albums are no longer dormant, it might clarify Evers’ profile in the history of the cannon of Carole King.
Collaborators aside, these reissues, particularly Simple Things, should please listeners who’d like to discover another side of one of the most important contributors to modern popular music, even if few of the songs jump out as neglected classics. Considering these releases are on King’s own label, it does seem surprising the singer put minimal effort in these reissues.
Again, the almost complete lack of any information about the musicians or any explanation as to why it took so long to get this music made available again signals King herself perhaps didn’t see these albums as anything noteworthy. Well, important they’re not, but diverting and occasionally entertaining they are.