June 6, 2010 | « back

THE MIAMI HERALD – Review: Carole King, James Taylor rock-a-bye boomers

By Howard Cohen

The second song of the 160-minute Carole King and James Taylor Troubadour Reunion Tour at Sunrise’s BankAtlantic Center Saturday night told the story of a night filled with fond memories and enduring music:

“One more song about moving along the highway / Can’t say much of anything that’s new,” King, 68, sang, her voice a bit raspier, but no less warm and spirited than it was in 1971 when she recorded So Far Away for her landmark Tapestry album.

This was an evening devoted to nostalgia, 28 songs tailor made for warm and fuzzies and reminiscing and it’s playing to packed arenas from Australia to a sold-out North America.

For either King or Taylor to mess with the material and modernize it would be sacrilege. Leave the reinventing to shape shifters like Bowie and Madonna.

These are two icons who deftly and purposely recreate the time in 1970 when the pair co-headlined Los Angeles’ famed Troubadour club after she’d already written a generation’s worth of hits for others with ex-husband Gerry Goffin and he was on the cusp of crafting material that would catapult him to king of the singer-songwriter era.

To haphazardly retool the songs more than 15,000 people came to hear like Fire and Rain, (You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman, Up on the Roof or Country Road would be tantamount to reading the Bible and finding a version that has Adam feeding Eve the apple. Just would not do.

For this tour, the two even went so far as to reunite the same musicians who backed them at the Troubadour and on LPs like Tapestry and Sweet Baby James all those years ago: guitarist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, bassist Leland Sklar and drummer Russ Kunkel.

“It’s a genuine, authentic reunion of the original band,” Taylor said, clearly happy to still be in possession of an unchanged voice and passion for the stage. The only thing missing was the hair on his and Kunkel’s heads. Otherwise, fans heard a flawless revisiting of a time long ago when soft rock eased the nation out of the tumultuous 1960s. These songs still feel relevant and calming in these days of oil spills and foreclosures.

“We tried to remember what was on those original set lists when we played the Troubadour — but we can’t,” Taylor, 62, said with a chuckle before introducing the fourth song of the night, a favorite that “probably was in the set,” called Carolina in My Mind.

If anyone stretched a bit, it was King, always the more adventurous songwriter of the duo, as she played with the vocal phrasing on parts of It’s Too Late to meld wonderfully with Sklar and Kortchmar who flirted with lithe jazz in their accompaniment.

King also rewrote some lines in Where You Lead and You’ve Got a Friend to make them South Florida specific. Taylor sometimes stirred the pot a bit as on Shower the People as he had King sing the harmony part his ex-wife Carly Simon sang on the original 1976 hit and let longtime backup vocalist Arnold McCuller take an ovation-worthy solo vocal passage. “That was sounding good — maybe too good,” Taylor teased.

Unlike most star pairings, the King-Taylor chemistry was unmistakable and warm. When one sang their song, the other would sing backup or play as part of the band. Their fondness for each other was aided by their placement on a revolving, central stage that often had Taylor in the curve of King’s piano, allowing the two to make eye contact. King was particularly endearing as she’d gaze with adoration at Taylor, especially during his tender concert-ending ballad, You Can Close Your Eyes.

It was also a night for musical history. After King delivered a rousing read of her 1974 hit Jazzman she joked, “Let’s take you back even further in time — but maybe not to 1903, for our first hit.” She and Taylor then sang a beautiful Will You Love Me Tomorrow, a song King had written in 1960 for the Shirelles, and as Taylor quipped “from the sublime to the ridiculous,” the pair followed with his stomping Steamroller.

Taylor also proved an amusing musical historian by linking her Beautiful with his Shower the People, one gospel in tone, the other easy listening pop. “These are hymns for agnostics,” he teased. “Mine is fuzzy, hers is uplifting, so these belong together.”

The satisfied fans, thousands strong, might well say the same about King and Taylor.