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`NATURAL WOMAN’ IS NATURAL FOR BEST-SELLER

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All you have to do is hear a song like "It's Too Late," with its just-right mix of pop, jazz and uptown folk; or the homespun sincerity of "You've Got a Friend"; or the gospel/soul-tinged "Where You Lead" - Carole King's warmly nasal, New York-accented vocals and straightforward piano playing always in the gentle spotlight - and the memories of her vital role in the singer-songwriter tradition come flooding back.

All, of course, were high points on "Tapestry," a revolutionary, very personal album that had no low points. "Tapestry" proved a phenomenon: No. 1 for 15 weeks; 14 million copies sold. Everyone, it seemed, bought it in 1971, and its songs filled the AM and FM airwaves: "I Feel the Earth Move," "So Far Away," "Smackwater Jack," "Beautiful" - and the powerful "covers" of songs she'd co-written (with onetime-husband Gerry Goffin) in the first place, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."It's strange to "review" an album again 23 years after the fact, but "Tapestry " was remarkable . . . and it is the centerpiece of King's new two-CD, 36-song boxed set, "A Natural Woman" - all of the album's dozen tunes are included. In order.

The set's subtitle is "The Ode Collection 1968-1976." That means this anthology represents her popular peak, but does not tap into her heyday as a Brill Building songwriter in the '60s, when she and Goffin penned such favorites as "The Loco-Motion," "One Fine Day," "Take Good Care of My Baby" and "Crying in the Rain." Nor does it offer her earliest singles, such as 1962's "It Might As Well Rain Until September," or sample her post-Ode Records work with such labels as Capitol-EMI and Atlantic.

But "A Natural Woman" does include a couple of pre-"Tapestry" songs with her group, the City - "Wasn't Born to Follow" and "Hi-De-Ho," which became a hit for Blood, Sweat & Tears. And it dips into her Ode solo albums, from "Writer," "Music" and "Rhymes & Reasons" to "Fantasy," "Wrap Around Joy," "Really Rosie" and "Thoroughbred." The old Drifters hit "Up on the Roof," the lovely "Child of Mine," "Sweet Seasons," "It's Going to Take Some Time" (popularized by the Carpenters), "Been to Canaan," the Span-ish/-Latinesque "Corazon" and "Jazzman," with saxman Tony Scott, are all present and accounted for.

Added to the mix are "Pocket Money," written for the contemporary western with Paul Newman and Lee Marvin; a couple of early '70s songs that didn't make it onto albums, "Ties That Bind" and "This Time in My Life"; and two live recordings, "Believe in Humanity" and "You've Got a Friend," performed with the man who took it to No. 1, James Taylor. (She leaves the stage and fetches him - much to her audience's delight.)