Laurie Krauz is giving herself a challenge, she explained this week in a jam-packed Metropolitan Room one-nighter. She's planning to record a heavy-duty disk called Tapestry Rewoven. Yes, Carole King fans, you've guessed it. She's tackling King's best-selling 1971 album, which has sold perhaps 30 million copies or more by now and in which King morphed from a Brill Building pop songwriter (with then-husband Gerry Goffin) into a no-nonsense rocker with big-time emotional concerns on her mind. What's more, to help underwrite the bold dream, Krauz has obtained a New York Foundation for the Arts grant. You go, girl.
According to Krauz — a Penn State undergraduate in the years following the appearance of King's release — the monster recording became a guiding artifact for her. "You've Got a Friend" remains the emblem of her bond with a roommate called, if I heard correctly, Barb Bevilacqua. No mystery then why these many years later she's found a way to pay artistic homage to King by reinterpreting the originals.
It's not only admirable but intriguing that a jazz singer — which is how Krauz has skewed her career in close collaboration with pianist Daryl Kojak — would approach the phenomenal King project from this angle. It's not a rarity. In 1964, drummer Shelly Manne took on the My Fair Lady score. Barb Jungr habitually scans various canons — Brel, Dylan, Presley, Simone — to invigorate them from fresh viewpoints.
So far, Krauz's journey into this King-dom looks to be successful. By the time she raises the funds to go into the recording studio, it could be a masterwork not unlike her idol's. To that end, she asks for donations from the stage and has donation envelopes handed to exiting patrons. Much of the onstage while, she follows the directions she gives herself when she says, "If the lyrics don't ring true for me, I can't sing the song."
Which is a good place for a jazz singer to start with someone like King, whose attitudes towards permanent and impermanent relationships are uppermost throughout Tapestry. Perhaps needless to say, Krauz connected with the "You've Got a Friend" lyric but was even more persuasive on the album title song, which received a moody underpinning from Kojak, guitarist Jamie Fox, bassist Sean Conly, drummer Gene Lewis, and saxophonist "Sweet" Sue Terry. The wailing she often interpolated during the entire program truly worked here.
Krauz — whose voice is pure and true and entirely without King's signature grit — also made something jubilant of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" (written with Goffin and the great Atlantic Records A&R guru Jerry Wexler). By the way, has a rock 'n' roll lyric ever been better or kitschier than "When my soul was in the lost and found/You came along to claim it"? At other times in a lengthy (by definition) set — made lengthier by amusing banter — Krauz went the jazz route of stressing sound over meaning. Thanks to her unquenchable enthusiasm, the strategy worked well enough on "I Feel the Earth Move" and "Way Over Yonder."
Though Krauz was admittedly anxious about what kind of reception she'd get for the undertaking, she seemed to be having the time of her life — or one of them. In the long run, that works in person and often transmits on disk as well. Only time and those dollars pouring in will tell.
Presented by and at the Metropolitan Room, 34 W. 22nd St., NYC. Thu., Aug. 7.