They were a strange pair, actually: dry and wet. He, 62, with the guarded, narrow excellence of his fingerpicking, putting his voice through a heavy soul-compressor, like Marvin Gaye in a telephone booth; she, 68, practicing generosity, singing as loudly as possible and straining at the high edges, coming down hard on her songs pivot-point chord changes.
If there still exists an idea of the American singer-songwriter as a conveyor of sympathy, sincerity and trust Bob Dylan notwithstanding James Taylor and Carole King are the reasons. They were grown-up sentimentalists. They sang about appreciating change. Their songs did not kick and scream. As a result they came through slim and intact. Their tandem show at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday put them both in the light that looks best on them: as collaborators and as loyalists.
How important is it that they were never lovers? Very. There might have been some references to physical abandon here and there in Ms. Kings I Feel the Earth Move and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman but this was a concert about stability and mutual esteem for craft.
Their loyalty extends not just to each other they worked together at the Troubadour in Los Angeles during the early 1970s, and Ms. King talked about how Mr. Taylor inspired her to write and perform her own music and lyrics but to their musicians. The backing band for Tuesdays concert, and for their intercontinental tour thus far, was essentially the band they used to play with in the clubs and studios: Russ Kunkel, drums; Leland Sklar, bass; Danny Kortchmar, guitar. The West Coast soft-rock wrecking crew.
They were right up there with major-to-minor chord changes and sincerity on the list of reasons that this music worked in the first place. On Tuesday, in Mr. Taylor's songs especially Carolina in My Mind, Shower the People the wide-ranging, counterintuitive bass lines, brushed drums and behind-the-beat groove made it all breathe.