This November, 40 years after her legendary album Tapestry came out, Carole King is releasing her first seasonal album, the aptly named A Holiday Carole.
Asked what took so long, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer answers, "So many other people do Christmas albums. The truth is I didn't think I had anything new to contribute."
It turns out she was wrong. To be sure, A Holiday Carole taps into some of the old standbys, including a gentle "Do You Hear What I Hear" and a jaunty "Sleigh Ride." But the classics stand alongside three originals co-written by King's daughter, Louise Goffin, who also produced the set.
"She was almost literally born in the studio," King says. "I gave birth to her moments after I left the studio. [For this project] I gave her the reins. She drove those reindeer on this sleigh ride."
The album, meant to be listened to by families together, features three generations singing: in addition to Goffin, the set includes King's grandson, who shares vocals with his grandma and mom on a stunning, jazz-tinged version of "Chanukah Prayer" in Hebrew.
"That's the one song that gives the album particular meaning to me," King says. "We didn't want it to be just a Christmas album. We acknowledge that many faiths are valuable, but we wanted to honor our own heritage." And she says that the song's traditional delivery is comforting.
"I wanted to keep it alive," she explains. "It's the way my father and mother taught it to me; it's the way I'm teaching it to my children and grandchildren. I see the generations marching."
Though King — one of the most successful, celebrated songwriters in pop music history — didn't pen any of the album's songs, she still wanted to give the collection her distinctive stamp, such as on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." "I just went for straight playing piano, which made it different, and the overlay of my own voice, which is constant on all my albums."
At age 69, King is in fine shape, and she fondly recalls her mother, who died last December at 94, as an inspiration for aging gracefully. In the "third act of her life," as King puts it, her mother dove deeply into theater, directing plays. As her mobility slipped away, she navigated life in a scooter, always staying independent.
"I was so fortunate to bear witness to that," King says. "She was just a comfort and a guide to me."
Although King jokes that she obsesses about aging "all the time," she tries to adopt her mother's gracious, accepting spirit.
"When you lose the ability to do things, you find other things to do," she says. "I can't hike as far as I used to; I wake up with aches and pains. OK, what can I do? The way you triumph over any of that is to find what you have to work with and make that work."
King, who lives in Idaho, still tours occasionally, most recently with her longtime friend James Taylor, with whom she released the hit 2010 album Live at the Troubadour. But her time has most recently been consumed with writing her memoir, A Natural Woman, which will be published in April 2012.
Revisiting the past is a process that she describes as "both joyous and painful." "It's what I remember about my life," she says. "While it may not be 100 percent accurate, it's my take."