In many instances, tribute concerts can easily become eyeroll-worthy, brown-nosing fests, where people spend too much time lavishing generic praise on the honoree, who sits back smugly and takes it all in. But this scenario couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to MusiCares’ tribute to Carole King. Throughout the ceremony, you can tell from the performers’ heartfelt renditions of King’s songs and their well-chosen words of love and gratitude just how deeply they adore this woman and her work.
But then, it’s hard not to love Carole King. Very few singer-songwriters can claim the success that she has achieved in her 50-some years of making music, writing tons of smash hits for a variety of artists over the past few decades. And not only is King’s music endearing, but she herself is remarkably bright and caring, making her a natural choice for the MusiCares Person of the Year. She’s someone you actually want to see receive an award, and you can tell, as she gives out hugs and blows kisses to everyone, that she’s having just as good a time as those playing for her. And what’s especially nice to see is that, even though the night is all about her, King makes a point to put others in the spotlight, whether it’s the young Egyptian musicians who join her for a Middle Eastern-inspired reworking of “Home Again,” or saxophonist Tom Scott helping her recreate their 1974 single, “Jazzman.” Throughout the evening, King’s warm personality and deep, genuine appreciation for every single performance shines through, making her award seem all the more deserved.
One of the best aspects of this ceremony is seeing how many successful female musicians from different genres are there to honor King, reinforcing just how important her career has been in inspiring and encouraging talented women to enter the music industry. Lady Gaga tells a story from her childhood about how she used to crank up “You’ve Got a Friend” whenever she needed someone to console her, and Gloria Estefan claims Tapestry has had the most impact of any album on her life. Alicia Keys puts everything she has into her version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” which seems almost as if it was written for her, and she even takes time for a loving shoutout to King right in the middle of the song.
When King is finally given her award, she is lauded for the message of hope that her music carries. And while this is true of so many of her inspiring compositions, from “Beautiful” to “Sweet Seasons,” her less optimistic ones, like “It’s Too Late” and “So Far Away,” show that her music is more broadly about touching raw emotions, one of which is hope, but all of which strike a visceral chord with listeners. Like King herself, her music is very down-to-earth and relatable, and this, combined with unforgettable melodies, is what makes it so timeless, giving it the ability to be reinvented and renewed by other artists, and allowing it to be appreciated by music fans from all walks of life. If anything, this concert makes it clear how thoughtful and well-crafted each one of King’s songs is from the multitude of interpretations across generations of musicians.
The highlights of the night, without a doubt, include King’s own performances of “Sweet Seasons,” “Hey Girl,” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” with her longtime collaborator and dear friend, James Taylor. This is an extra special treat if you didn’t manage to catch these two on their joint tour a few years back, and it provides a perfect display of their musical chemistry. Also worth noting is the downright historical teaming up of some of the music world’s greatest vocalists, Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, and Lisa Fischer, who are joined by rising star Judith Hill for the classic Tapestry track, “Way Over Yonder.” Alternative country singer Kacey Musgraves’ cover of “Cryin’ In the Rain” with Miguel is brilliant as well, and considering the Everly Brothers’ recording is the most familiar version, it’s particularly interesting to hear an updated duet of the song.
Speaking from my personal viewpoint, I found that some artists whose music I don’t normally enjoy, such as P!nk and Martina McBride, did a remarkably good job with the material, which I would say is a testament not only to their talent, but to the sheer quality of King’s songs and their enduring versatility. However, while the variety of featured performers made the tribute all the more interesting, I could have done without certain aspects, such as will.i.am’s fairly clumsy mashing of the Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is the Love?” into “Love Makes the World.” However, the juxtaposition of the less compelling Peas song just goes to show King’s rare ability to compose a sincere song like “Love Makes the World” that many others could not write without making it sound corny or simply unconvincing. Moreover, Steven Tyler and LeAnn Rimes’ pairing also struck me as a somewhat strange addition to the event, especially for the opening act, but I’m glad they covered “Hi-De-Ho (That Old Sweet Roll),” which is one of my favorite King songs from her time with the City. In spite of a few missteps, I feel the concert’s participants were well-selected overall and that they put forth some absolutely splendid covers of King’s songs, which only got better as the show progressed.
For the casual listener who is interested in learning more about Carole King’s work, this concert will likely surprise you with how many tunes you’ve heard before, though you’ve probably only heard some them from acts other than King herself. And if you’re already a fan of some of the artists in the lineup, or you know someone who is but hasn’t gotten into King yet, then this MusiCares concert is an even better introduction, as it’s a chance to see some of the inspiration behind the artists you already love. Moreover, the focus is squarely on the music and transitions smoothly from one act to another, so you won’t be bogged down by people constantly giving speeches about someone who you’re not that familiar with.
Still, even if the whole night was nothing but praise for Carole King, it wouldn’t be undeserved. At the end of Train’s performance of “I Feel the Earth Move,” Pat Monahan says to her what everyone else must must have already been thinking: “You’re the best songwriter that ever lived.” And although King seems to vehemently disagree, it’s obvious from this lovely tribute to her astounding body of work that she has certainly earned the compliment.
To get your copy of A MusicCares Tribute to Carole King on DVD or Blu-Ray, head over to Shout! Factory’s online shop.