Carole King and James Taylor – “Live at the Troubadour”

When James Taylor and Carole King reunited for a one-off 2007 performance at LA’s famed Troubadour to celebrate the club’s fiftieth aniversary — and the duo’s famous 1971 two-week run at the club as co-headliners — they couldn’t have expected to find their groove again so successfully as collaborators. But the concert, while providing no new revelations, shows both King and Taylor for the legendary performers both are and it struck a chord in today’s “retrospective-leaning” culture, leading to this excellent CD/DVD companion and what is now a major summer ’10 tour.

“I felt the moment that I began to play with James that we had been playing together for a lifetime,” King writes in the liner notes. “It still feels that way.” That’s what makes this album more than a mere curiosity. Though King was well regarded as a songwriter when she and Taylor met, Taylor was ready to come out of his shell as a performer and therefore became the first to break big with his slow-burning hit Sweet Baby James, on which King played as a member of his band. But that experience helped her come out of her shell as a performer, and by the time the two met up for the two-week run at the Troubadour, she was already one of the world’s biggest music stars, with Tapestry having sold 20 million copies.

Still, she and Taylor played as equals, and they do the same for this snapshot performance, showing they both have such strong admiration and respect for each other that both contributed to each others’ rise in the music world. More important, they’ve managed to regain their sound as live performers, bringing back the bulk of their original collaborating band – including Danny Kortchmar on guitar, Leland Sklar on bass and Russell Kunkel on drums – which really makes this sound like a concert that exists on two planes, half in the present and half what we would have been lucky to see had we been there in LA in 1971.

King and Taylor share the spotlight, playing an equal mix of songs by both artists, including all the hits you’d expect on an album like this. Taylor comes off sounding more natural, perhaps because he’s continued to play these songs for decades and has had his voice remain virtually intact over the years. King, who admits she hadn’t played many of these songs in years, hits a few more bumps in the road, but though her voice sounds more road-worn than Taylor’s she really gets into her music and the album benefits from the injection of raw emotional vocals.

And though the album doesn’t offer anything new, it’s the kind of album fans of both artists will be enjoying for years to come, because the DVD which is included shows the entire performance from multiple camera angles, edited smoothly and unobtrusively to show an intimate performance to the millions who couldn’t be there. The album also includes the full concert, complete with intra-song banter from both Taylor and King, and the liner notes (written by famed music critic Bill Flanagan) explain the genesis of the concert, providing a look back at those formative years when both artists were finding their sounds through each other.

In the end Live at the Troubadour provides everything a fan of James Taylor or Carole King could have hoped for, and as a reimagining of a famous performance from nearly 40 years ago, it’s remarkable how comfortable both artists still sound with the material. I can’t think of anyone performing today who would be able to pull the same thing off four decades from now, and that alone makes this well worth your time. It’s a release all involved can rightly feel proud of.

Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.

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