Graded on a Curve:
The City, Now That Everything’s Been Said

Celebrated as one of the prime pop tunesmiths of the 1960s, Carole King’s greatest fame is as a recording artist, her output helping to establish the phenomenon of the Adult-Oriented Singer-Songwriter. A mixed accolade perhaps, but a key development in King’s transition from Brill Building to Billboard #1 is the sole album by The City. Given her enduring reputation and achievements, the neglect of Now That Everything’s Been Said remains a stumper; possessing an amiable and unruffled temperament, it’s been remastered from the original tapes and freshly reissued on LP/CD through Light in the Attic.

Released in ’68 to no fanfare, The City’s solitary platter resulted from collaboration by a trio of NYC transplants; alongside King was guitarist Daniel “Kootch” Kortchmar, an associate of the Fugs who headed west to join undersung Elektra outfit Clear Light, and bassist Charles Larkey, also a former Fug whose previous band the Myddle Class cut a handful of 45s for Tomorrow Records, the label run by King and her co-writer-husband Gerry Goffin.

Now That Everything’s Been Said is additionally notable for the drumming of Jim Gordon. Having played on Pet Sounds, he was later recruited for Delaney & Bonnie & Friends and Joe Cocker’s group for Mad Dogs & Englishmen, and as a member of Derek & the Dominos he wrote the exquisite keyboard coda for “Layla.” There are also lyrics courtesy of Larkey’s Myddle Class bandmate David Palmer, a name some may recall from Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill; the singer on “Dirty Work,” post-Dan he went on to pen the words to King’s ’74 hit “Jazzman.”

By ’68 King and Goffin were divorced and she’d moved west. Casual jamming with Larkey and Kortchmar in her Laurel Canyon digs spawned this LP, their efforts produced by Lou Adler for his Ode Records. Amongst others Adler worked with the Mamas & the Papas, the Grass Roots (both on his prior imprint Dunhill), Scott Mackenzie and Spirit; eventually through a deal with A&M, Ode released King’s chart conquering cornerstone of grownup listening Tapestry.

The late ‘60s are retrospectively looked upon as a period of considerable genre crosspollination, and Now That Everything’s Been Said fits into the scenario quite well. Delving into six tunes from her relationship with Goffin, the members of The City were absorbing the expected progressions in rock, folk, and R&B and also branching out into nascent psychedelia, gospel, and even jazz.

Opener “Snow Queen” is a legitimate slice of jazz-pop with the emphasis thankfully on a piano-vibes-guitar-rhythm section approach rather than heavy-handed brass (which is where it diverts from Blood Sweat & Tears’ appalling later version). Initially Gordon provides the strongest jazz link, though King had clearly been spinning a few Coltrane records, her keyboard Tyner-esque without overstating the influence.

Hanging in very well instrumentally as Kortchmar and Larkey’s fluid expressiveness circumvents the noodlesome, King’s writing nicely hints at the melodic glory offered in Coltrane’s adaptation of “My Favorite Things” while remaining pop crisp, fading out less than four minutes in as the whole connects a bit like a Mamas & the Papas single organized by Bob Thiele.

“Snow Queen” sets up a high standard, but The City manage to equal it with the gemlike piano-driven folk-pop of “I Wasn’t Born to Follow,” a song many will recognize from The Notorious Byrd Brothers; missing is the graceful glide and distorto-psych midsection, in its place a deeper emotional resonance at a slower pace and lengthier duration.

The byproduct retains a Dylan-esque quality mostly through King’s slightly woozy singing. Kortchmar’s guitar lands squarely in the folk-rock zone, and the track simultaneously nods toward the contemporaneous productivity of fellow New Yorker Laura Nyro, a comparison also applicable to the upbeat title cut.

Propelled by Gordon’s crack drumming, “Now That Everything’s Been Said” (Brian Wilson nuts might know it from the ’72 outing from American Spring) is reminiscent of a weightier 5th Dimension and flaunts a shade of Rundgren to come. A thoroughly accessible entity (and one of three co-authored with Toni Stern), its agreeable characteristics apply to the entirety of the disc and especially the tidy blend of harmony pop (via overdubbing) and folk-rock shaping “Paradise Alley,” a number also serving as the b-side for their first single.

That “Snow Queen” was chosen as the plug side underscores the hopes Adler had for The City, with the trio’s ample range extending to the microphone. However, Kortchmar’s lead vocal on the pop-soul-inclined “Man without a Dream” is a fairly modest proposition, a description suiting the tune as a whole (Davy Jones gives it a pretty good reading on The Monkees’ Instant Replay).

R&B is also pertinent to “Victim of Circumstance” (it and “Paradise Alley” comprise Palmer’s contribution) but the selection’s strong point lay in how the harmony-pop brightness gets invaded by Larkey’s bass throb. It contrasts with the brokenhearted balladry of “Why Are You Leaving,” bluntly not one of the standouts here but aided by an engaging instrumental dynamic and King’s general eschewal of the maudlin.

“Lady” inches even closer to the vibes of her subsequent success, but with a ‘60s studio-pop bent that registers as an advantage. The execution is undeniably pro, and it leads to Now That Everything’s Been Said’s only non-King composition, a cover of Margaret Allison’s “My Sweet Home” pushing their stylistic breadth into dangerous territory.

King and Kortchmar’s vocal exchange inspires visions of a hootenanny hosted by Mama Cass and John Sebastian while in the clutches of a joint spiritual bender (Allison was the co-founder-lead singer-pianist of the Angelic Gospel Singers), and “My Sweet Home” impressively sidesteps the problematic. Bluntly, “I Don’t Believe It” isn’t as lucky; mixed gender duets are a staple of R&B and C&W, but here King and Kootch merely flirt with the innocuous.

To restate the above, The City’s music is well-assessed as lacking in grit/edge, but they consistently replace it with flashes of heft and verve. Plus a few surprises; “That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho),” tackled poorly by Blood Sweat & Tears (‘twas a hit) and much more adeptly by Dusty Springfield on her ’72 slab See All Her Faces (‘twasn’t), unfurls exactly as one would expect until a fiddle arrives from the left field bleachers. Furthermore, the electric harpsichord in “All the Time” helps to firmly reinforce the ‘60s milieu as King saves a particularly appealing vocal for the disc’s finale.

Now That Everything’s Been Said has been posited as ahead of the curve, and maybe that’s true, but its low sales are easily tied to a concrete confluence of factors; the end of Adler’s Columbia/CBS deal resulted in a lack of promotion and a quickly deleted album, King was at this stage reluctant to play live, and the group couldn’t secure a fulltime drummer, Gordon turning down the offer and traveling to England at the request of Eric Clapton.

It’s interesting to speculate what might’ve happened had sales improved and The City persevered. On the other hand, after forming the horribly named Jo Mama, Kortchmar and Larkey, who became King’s second husband, continued backing her into the mid-‘70s. Carole King’s softly rocking marketplace dominance was basically inevitable and Adler’s judgment of this LP as a stepping-stone rather than a lost classic feels accurate. An enjoyable ride, Now That Everything’s Been Said deserves more than footnote status.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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