November 07, 2009

Carly Simon is Back, Though She's Never Been Gone

A good song can withstand time, trends, and interpretation by artists other than the original. And, as Carly Simon demonstrates on her latest album (marking her debut on Iris Records), Never Been Gone, reinterpreting one’s own compositions can prove rewarding as well.

In a casual, mostly acoustic setting of guitars and assorted strings, Simon covers ten selections from her songbook—most of them instantly recognizable hits, the rest of them devoted-fan favorites—as well as two new tracks. The laid-back vibe is further underscored by the close-knit roster of musicians who appear alongside Simon, most notably her son and daughter, Ben and Sally Taylor.

Throughout, Simon comes across as a seasoned storyteller, evoking an air of wistful reflection even through some of her most pensive moments from the past. As with "That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be," and "Anticipation," she melds tempered arrangements to her cathartic introspections, resulting in her sounding less burdened (or at least less emotionally immersed) than when she was actively pondering their circumstances.

Simon delivers other highlights in "It Happens Every Day" and "Coming Around Again," rendering both narratives with particularly warm and inviting vocals. She plays "You're So Vain" and (despite her revising it from piano to guitar) "The Right Thing To Do" fairly close to the vest, but she commits as much to these performances as on the deeper album cuts.

Of the two new tracks, it's a toss-up. With its ballistic drums and pseudo-reggae aggression, “No Freedom” is just ill-suited to this collection's modest, hospitable tone. “Songbird,” which closes out the album, fares substantially better, its piano-and-strings progression making for an evocative coda.

All in all, Never Been Gone works best as a reminiscent set for longtime fans rather than as a concerted effort to make new ones. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In a career as extensive and fruitful as Simon’s, there’s certainly much for fans to appreciate.