Without a little perspective it might be easy to overlook this fine and at times fascinating new archival release from Eagle Rock Entertainment: Carole King Live at Montreux 1973. This live recording (with companion video / film) captures the Grammy award winning singer-songwriter performing live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, her first ever performance outside the United States.
The perspective is this: prior to 1971, Carole King was not really a household name even though she had written or co-written some of the biggest hits of the 1960s.
At 17 she wrote “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” which became a #1 hit for The Shirelles in 1960. She wrote “Chains” (recorded by The Beatles on their first album), “The Loco-Motion” (a Number One smash by Little Eva),” “Up On The Roof (a #5 hit for The Drifters in 1962),” “Pleasant Valley Sunday (for The Monkees),” “I’m Into Something Good” (a #13 hit for Hermans Hermits in 1964) and so many more.
Carole King was an important behind-the-scenes writer in The Brill Building, part of what Joni Mitchell called the “star making machinery” behind many a popular song. By 1970 King had forged a new solo career and in 1971 her second album became a massive global hit. Tapestry remains one of the biggest hit albums of all time selling more than 25 million copies globally and winning four Grammy Awards in 1972! It also remains a spectacular album. King went on to record many other albums but by 1973 she was trying to spread her wings a bit (as were many of her singer-songwriting peers including Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro). Her album Fantasy was that moment, a song cycle concept album of a sort, an album which is by design not as immediately accessible as Tapestry, but no less worthy of your attention. Its a grower, as they say….
And Fantasy is where we find Carole King when she reached Montreux for the famous Jazz festival. She opens her set with solo hits and then brings on the tight band that could groove and swing to play most of the Fantasy album before closing the night with two of her signature songs, “You’ve Got A Friend” and “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman.”
The crowd is rapturous and King exuberant in her new role center stage leading a band. Just think: 10 years earlier she was pounding out songs for sale in a factory like environment, an un-heralded (at least to the mainstream public) master responsible for million selling hits. Six weeks before this concert she drew 100,000 people to Central Park for a free concert!
You can hear and see that slight edge of nervous excitement in the video of her performance. To that, the music on Carole King Live at Montreux 1973 is a warts ‘n all affair and that is not a bad thing. Just realize this is a live recording made in full takes before an audience so there was no going back to fix things or autotune vocals and such (not that her vocals are bad …they are good!).
The sound on Carole King Live at Montreux 1973 is generally good for DVD video of this period (note: for this review I was only able to listen to it in Dolby Stereo given that my home theater system is down while construction was going on in my apartment! I’ll try to update this in the notes below at a later date for the DTS 5.1 and Dolby Surround soundtrack options). The accompanying visuals are adequate and typical for what was probably captured on early video recording gear.
The CD (included with the DVD!) sounds a bit brighter still. The vinyl version of is where Carole King Live at Montreux 1973 shines brightest and fullest. As live recordings go from this period it sounds full and natural, with crisp drums (listen for those great ambient tom tom hits that showcase the natural resonance of the concert hall). The horns are punchy and King’s vocals are pure and clean. Perhaps the only detail that suffers is that the distant-sounding bass guitar which is a bit indistinct due to the nature of the mix; don’t get me wrong, its “there” but it would have been nice if they could have remixed it a bit to bring out the funky detailing I can hear going on.
Nonetheless, Carole King Live at Montreux 1973 is a fine snapshot of an artist at a crucial point in her career. It’s a fun show. If you are a Carole King fan, you need this.