Music Reviews

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The Troubadour, West Hollywood
Wednesday, Nov. 28


A generation-plus ago, a "shy little songwriter" in James Taylor's band was nudged forward. "I didn't want to go," Carole King recalled during Wednesday's late show at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. Thankfully, she did.

Taylor and King's wonderfully nostalgic set reflected a mutual admiration as they shared the stage where they famously made their solo debuts in 1969. Joined by the original band from those shows -- guitarist Danny Kortchmar, drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Lee Sklar -- King and Taylor played songs he said they "might have" done back then.

Taylor said returning to the Troubadour was "almost like deja vu -- but I can't really remember it. We played here repeatedly in the '70s, apparently."

And the quips kept comin' throughout the 90-minute set, part of their three-night, six-show stand marking the club's 50th anniversary. It played like an episode of VH1's "Storytellers," with both Rock Hall of Famers comfortably sharing songs and stories.

After opening with "Blossom," King said, "That's the way we did it on the 'Sweet Baby James' album back in, we like to say, 1903." And Taylor's deadpan, often self-deprecating humor was on display all night. "Even though the jokes are old," as he put it, he induced chuckles with lines about "wood-burning guitars" and how King has been penning songs for so long that "she wrote the national anthem."

Comedy stylings aside, the pair delivered a memorable show that drew on King's "Tapestry," Taylor's first three solo albums and pop classics she wrote as a prodigy during the Brill Building era. Both have DVDs on the market but neither plugged them, instead focusing on the matter at hand.

Taylor introduced "Something in the Way She Moves" as the first "presentable" song he wrote. He sang it accompanied only by Sklar, while King, her eyes closed, rocked on her piano stool and mouthed the words. Taylor later turned into goofball scatster for "Steamroller Blues," clearly enjoying that one.

As King introduced the oldest song of the night, she stood up, threw her arms in the air and exclaimed, "Hey, this is what 65 looks like!" She was all of 18 when the Shirelles took "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" to No. 1 in 1960. Her version was broken down to its purest form, slow and sure, like a "Tapestry" outtake -- miles from the production-heavy hit that helped popularize the girl group sound.

King's rough-edged voice perfectly suited the lament of "So Far Away," backed only by Taylor's acoustic guitar. She later stepped on the gas for the rollicking "Smackwater Jack," which drew one of the biggest responses of the night, in part for Kortchmar's guitar lead.

Even more than the music or the performances, the night was about remembrance and friendship. Before playing what would become his lone No. 1 single and signature song, Taylor pointed to the balcony and said he was sitting up there when he first heard it. He added that it was "amazingly typical of (King's) generosity" to let him cut "You've Got a Friend" as she was rehearsing for the "Tapestry" record. The ensuing duet was a delight. As was this show.
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