3 Oct 2015
The City – Now That Everything’s Been Said
Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)
The beautiful thing about recorded music is that it’s a permanent record (no pun intended) of an artist’s place at a specific moment in time. Especially wonderful are those recordings that showcase a lesser-known side of a well-known artist. Such is the case with the 1969 album from Carole King’s band, The City, recently given a loving reissue by Light In the Attic Records.
King was already an established Brill Building hitmaker by the late 60s, having written hits for The Monkees, The Shirelles, Aretha Franklin, and many more. But, in 1969, she relocated from New York to California, where she met guitarist Danny Kortchmar and bassist Charles Larkey, with whom she formed this psych-pop band.
Well, to call The City “psychedelic” is a little misleading, as they were really a pop band with a touch of psychedelic decoration here and there. The sound is undeniably Carole King, only the trappings are different: an organ or harpsichord might appear where there would be electric piano a few years later. Or maybe there’s a slightly different guitar tone that sounds more like The Association than "Tapestry".
“Snow Queen” opens the record with a sprightly psych/prog jazz-waltz atypical of the Carole King that most of us know; however, King’s piano playing is instantly recognizable. And then, when she begins to sing, there is no question as to whom we are hearing. The next song, “I Wasn’t Born To Follow,” even has bits and pieces of the melody from her classic hit “So Far Away.”
Despite the fact that King is the obvious front woman, there is a sense that The City is still trying to be an actual band. To that end they give Danny Kortchmar several lead vocals, starting with “Man Without a Dream.” While the male vocal does bring a slight shift in tone, the guitar player adopts King’s phrasing, almost to a “t” and you are, once again, reminded that this is King’s show.
It’s not until near the end of the album, with “My Sweet Home” that The Carole King Sound is somewhat obscured, and it has nothing to do with the Kortchmar lead vocal. It’s that the band is adopting the nascent country rock sound that bands like The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Byrds were spearheading at the time. A couple tunes later, “That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho)” provides another welcome departure, touching on light soul and gospel. It’s a song that Dusty Springfield recorded a few years later for her classic album "Dusty In Memphis".
While The City had only this single album to their name, it was an important one. This is the project that put Carole King out front for the first time, helping to pave the way for one of the best and most-influential pop artists of the 1970s to make her mark. The songs are not the best of King’s career, but the pure pop melodies and the honesty and soul in her voice are still engaging.
This is not an album for the hardcore psych crowd, per se. For the bulk of you, searching for a purely psychedelic record, it’ll be a mere curio, and ultimately unsatisfying. But for those of you who enjoy 1970s singer/songwriter material, it’s a fascinating glimpse at one of the best songwriters of her generation, at a moment in time where psychedelia was huge and she couldn’t escape its shadow. Nor did she try to.
Available here (UK/EU), and here (US).