Music review: Carole King Hits and Rarities, Festival of Jewish Art and Music

A tribute show to an iconic singer and songwriter.

It was surely a moment of inspiration when the organisers at the Festival of Jewish Art and Music (FOJAM) team thought of doing a show of Carole King songs. The singer/songwriter – who today could easily be mistaken for a Yiddisher grandma or a babushka from the streets of Balaclava on her way to the beach – was an icon of 60s music and activism, and a prolific songwriter as well as a soloist in her own right.

This tribute concert was the latest in a series of smart programming decisions from FOJAM, which has previously offered reflections on COVID from Israel and the US, a Leonard Cohen event featuring Katie Noonan and sponsored by RRR, and even a panel on the Netflix phenomenon Unorthodox chaired by media personality John Safran.

The concept of ladies singing the blues isn’t new, but it has roots in Jewish culture. Who could forget Amy Winehouse in her retro beehive when she sang so hauntingly and with such insightful vulnerability, ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ The song was a hit for The Shirelles, and gave the black all-girl group their first number one hit, but it was written by King and her partner and lyricist Gerry Goffin. It was the first of many hits – many more than enough to fill a show with.

And it was an enjoyable show performed with guests that included former Cat Empire frontman Harry James Angus, the Edith Piaf-inspired Emily Lubitz and Triple J sensations Freeds and Esther Edquist (Sweet Whirl). There were also musical surprises, in the form of newcomer Jemma Cher, whose version of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ had the funk of Amy Winehouse with more musical precision – if lacking the pathos that Winehouse brought to the King tune.

The hits made the show fun, but it was the rarities that made it art. Edquist shone as much for her period wardrobe as for her stylised rendering of ‘No Easy Way Down’. There was also laughter in unlikely places. Angus’ rendition of ‘Jazzman’ reminded us that King didn’t just write with Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, she also wrote for The Simpsons and the FOJAM band’s recreation was as memorable as Bleeding Gums‘ version.

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There was an encore rendition of the dance hit ‘The Locomotion’ complete with period outfits. All up – an entertaining night out that took us back to a time when it was new to be forever young.

Carole King’s Hits and Rarities was performed on 22-23 March at St Kilda’s Memo Music Hall and on 24 March at Palais-Hepburn at Hepburn Springs.

Vanessa Francesca is a writer who has worked in independent theatre. Her work has appeared in The Age, The Australian and Meanjin