Carly Simon

Into White

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Listening to Into White, it's difficult to find a place where it begins and ends. Unlike 2005's Moonlight Serenade, or her many other standards records, this is a set that doesn't feel like one. For starters, Carly Simon has come full circle. There is no symphony orchestra here, none of the schmaltz and syrup that have plagued almost every one of her recordings since 1997's Film Noir (2000's Bedroom Tapes was an exception). This does not mean that the album is void of sentimentality. How can anyone record Stephen Foster's "Oh Susanna" or Jimmie Davis' "You Are My Sunshine" or the eternal lullaby "I Gave My Love a Cherry" without it? For starters, there is the song selection. But these songs are woven into a strange, multi-colored, intimate fabric with Lennon and McCartney's "Blackbird," and the title cut (written and performed so wonderfully by Cat Stevens on 1970s Tea for the Tillerman; it need never be done again). Simon is backed by a close-knit studio band of friends and family, from co-producer and engineer (and often duet and backing vocalist) Jim Parr, her children Ben and Sally Taylor (with James Taylor; they perform gorgeously on Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes"), keyboardist Teese Gohl, and others. This sense of intimacy is both a good and bad thing. Eternal songs such as Foster's or "Jamaica Farewell" deserve to be treated as both classics and prime material for experimentation, where original interpretation is a must if the song is to be pulled off. Simon fails on both of these. Her reading of "Manha de Carnival," the haunting and beautiful theme from the film Black Orpheus (written by the late guitarist Luiz Bonfá), fares much better because Simon is able to reach into her lower register and float the tune's rhythm. Her treatments of both "Scarborough Fair" and Yip Harberg and Harold Arlen's "Somewhere over the Rainbow" add to each song's immortality. The reason for this is a life-long fascination with the material that has no doubt been tried in many contexts before. There is a new version of Simon's "Love of My Life" from the film This Is My Life. It takes on new depth and dimension here. The album's closer "I'll Just Remember You," co-written by son Ben, could have been written in the '40s. Its pronounced melody and subtle atmospheric backdrop lend itself to the stuff of great balladry. In sum, Into White may be the best record Simon's made since the Bedroom Tapes, and it takes a place in her catalog alongside Torch and Boys in the Trees, though it is very different in feel and texture from either.

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