Writer is the most underrated of all of Carole King's original albums, in that it was completely ignored when it came out in 1971 and didn't really start to sell until Tapestry whetted everyone's appetite for her work. It's an album of its time, in both King's life and career, and the music of its era -- singer/songwriters were still something new ...
Writer is the most underrated of all of Carole King's original albums, in that it was completely ignored when it came out in 1971 and didn't really start to sell until Tapestry whetted everyone's appetite for her work. It's an album of its time, in both King's life and career, and the music of its era -- singer/songwriters were still something new, and in 1970, it was assumed that anyone in rock had to tend toward the extrovert and flashy to attract attention. Thus, Writer has a somewhat louder sound than the relatively lean, introspective strains of Tapestry which followed. "Spaceship Races," which opens the record, features Danny Kootch Kortchmar playing full-out electric guitar, chopping and crunching away with his amp turned way up, and King belting out a number behind his bluesy licks that makes her sound like Grace Slick and the song come off like a pounding (and good) Jefferson Airplane number of the same era, with a great vocal hook at the end of the verses. "No Easy Way Down," with its soulful instrumental and backing arrangement, calls to mind not only her own "Natural Woman" as done by Aretha Franklin, but also (in terms of New York white women belting out soul) Laura Nyro at her best, and it's also a great tune with a killer performance by King, whose wailing voice is extraordinarily powerful here. "Child of Mine" is the closest that the album gets to the voice that she found on Tapestry, while "Goin' Back" gives a more personal and elegant take to a song that is otherwise thoroughly identified with the Byrds; and "To Love" has King diving into country music, which she pulls off with exceptional grace, the song's title referring to a beguilingly innocent and free-spirited chorus that, once heard, stays with you. Even the least interesting of the songs here, "What Have You Got to Lose," is unusual in the context of King's overall work, with its heavy acoustic rhythm guitar, soaring backing vocals, and King's bold near-falsetto on the choruses. And that's just Side One of the original LP -- Side Two opens a little more slackly with the beautiful, reflective, but slightly too languid "Eventually," and the delightful "Raspberry Jam," which offers a soaring guitar showcase for Kortchmar (whose playing intersects the sounds of Roger McGuinn and David Crosby off of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High"), and a head-spinning, swirling organ from Ralph Schuckett weaving below and around King's piano, plus one of King's most playful vocals on record. The album ends on a special high note, King's singer/songwriter-styled reinterpretation of "Up on the Roof," which anticipates the sound she would perfect for Tapestry, emphasizing words and their feeling and meaning as much as music, and expressing herself principally through her voice and piano, moving the band out of the way. Ironically enough, if Writer had been released by almost any other artist, it would command a near-top rating and probably be a fondly remembered period cult item today; instead, for all of its merits, it must stand in the shadow of King's more accomplished and distinctive work that followed -- but even slightly "off-brand," under-developed Carole King music from 1970 is still worth hearing today. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
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