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Seasoned pop standards

By Julian Wise - November 22, 2006

"Into White," a new collection of pop standards and lullabies by legendary singer/songwriter Carly Simon, won't be released until January, but fans of Ms. Simon will want to mark their calendars. The album proves that Ms. Simon's musical gifts, rather than fading away with the passage of time, are improving with age.

The album opens with Cat Stevens's "Into White," and from the first notes it's evident that Ms. Simon's voice has aged beautifully like a fine brandy seasoned by the years. While some of her peers have had their vocal chords altered by the passage of time (Joni Mitchell's reedy warble has been aged into a smoky baritone), Ms. Simon's voice has retained its melodic timbre while gaining richness and depth. On James Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes" she is joined by Ben and Sally Taylor; their three voices intertwine in lovely harmonies anchored by Ben's mellow baritone. Old standards like "You Are My Sunshine" and "Oh! Susanna" are given new life as Ms. Simon sings the oft-forgotten second and third verses. "Jamaica Farewell" is given a gentle Caribbean lilt and Ms. Simon's voice tackles the minor-key cadences of the Brazilian gem "Manha De Carnival" (Theme from "Black Orpheus") with easy precision. Ms. Simon takes on standards by The Beatles ("Blackbird") and Simon and Garfunkel ("Scarborough Fair"), proving that her vocal talents measure up against the other legendary figures of 20th century popular music.

"Into White" is elevated by spare, graceful production by James Parr. The disc captures the simple elegance and clarity of classic 1970s albums without sounding forced or intentionally retro. Seamless musicianship by Teese Gohl, Peter Calo, Jan Hyer, and David Saw make for a pleasurable listening experience. While musical styles and fads change, this album proves that Ms. Simon remains a premier talent whose musical gifts take on greater depth and richness with each passing year.

Julian Wise is a frequent contributor to The Times, specializing in music, film, and the performing arts.