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Reviewed by Jeff Giles
he hasn’t had a major-label record deal since the mid-‘90s, and is best-known for songs she wrote decades ago, but shed no tears for Carole King: as this DVD attests, she’s doing just fine for herself, thank you very much. “Welcome to My Living Room”is a visual document of a night from King’s 2005 Living Room Tour, first offered to fans on CD two years ago, now expanded to include extra songs (11 of them, to be precise) and the requisite bonus footage.
Those 11 extra songs bring the evening’s set list to 24 tracks (including a medley), which might sound like an awful lot of goddamn Carole King, especially if all you’re aware of is her mega-selling Tapestry period. Such an attitude might be easy to understand – who needs to hear “It’s Too Late” again? – but woefully misguided; to watch Living Room is to take a master class in pure songwriting talent. King’s work – especially from, say, the late ‘80s on – has often been guilty of a surplus of schmaltz, but even if you think you understand how many hits she’s written, you really don’t. Among these 24 songs are a mind-boggling 21 Top 40 hits, seven of which hit the top of the charts. Play this for a casual music fan and explain, going in, that the little curly-haired woman behind the piano wrote all these songs (well, co-wrote them, really, mostly with her ex-husband Gerry Goffin – but whatever, casual music fans don’t care about that stuff). Watch their amazement grow.
The performances are as casual and intimate as the DVD’s title suggests; King is joined at various points by guitarists/vocalists Gary Burr and Rudy Guess, but often, it’s just her in the “living room,” and her easy rapport with her audience suggests she’d be fine doing the whole show that way. Boiled down to voice and piano, the songs certainly hold up perfectly well – but hey, we’re talking about “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman,” so that’s no big surprise. King’s voice has added some grain since her glory days, but for the most part, the ragged edges don’t distract or take away from the music.
What does take away is King’s decision to yield the floor to Burr mid-show. Even if you aren’t particularly a fan of her records, the transition to Burr’s “Nobody Wants to Be Lonely” (which is awful, just awful) and “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me” (not awful, but still) is jarring. Her willingness to share the spotlight is admirable, but musically speaking, it makes no sense. King’s fans, by definition, have to be comfortable with a certain amount of sap, but even her goopiest songs have their compositional wits about them. Burr simply isn’t in the same league.
The only other real problem with this DVD is the fact that it’s arriving two years after the CD. Anyone who bought Living Room the first time around probably would have appreciated the option of watching it while they listened – now, they’ll have to pay for the privilege a second time. Even with the added material, this feels a little like a shakedown – an unseemly business decision from a performer who should no longer have to worry about moving units. Still, if you’re a fan, you’ll want to have this; in fact, it might even be worth paying for twice.