10 MAY 12 ANNE FARNSWORTH
Carole King's The Legendary Demos is a fascinating peek behind the process of one of our most prolific and beloved pop composers. Although demo retrospectives have been packaged before, I can't remember when they've come from someone as important to American music.
The presentations range from King singing solo while accompanying herself on piano in the vein of her groundbreaking Tapestry album, to more fleshed out arrangements with a band and King-added backup vocals. Without bells and whistles or studio magic, what's left is impeccable musicianship and unadulterated creativity, qualities the lo-fi movement emulate today.
It's interesting to hear the evolution of style as the demos move through the pop landscape of the '60s. Teen idol Bobby Vee's hit, "Take Good Care Of My Baby," captures the angst and turmoil that was a hallmark of the beginning of the decade, an important period that transitioned American culture from the buttoned-down Eisenhower era into the let-it-all-hang-out zeitgeist of the hippie generation.
One of the most captivating aspects of this compilation is King's awareness of her target artist's individual sound and strengths. You'll recognize immediately that "Just Once In My Life" was written for the Righteous Brothers for she nails their signature sound with her vocal harmonies, triplet rubatos and chord modulations. The Monkees hit, "Pleasant Valley Sunday," opens with the jangly guitar and swooping 3-part harmonies that were staples of the group's persona.
And then there's the powerhouse "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," which not only helped break Aretha Franklin into a crossover phenomenon in 1967, but was also reprised brilliantly by King a few years later. There are elements of both women's unique approaches in the demo.