The Essential Carole King is not your typical “greatest hits” package. Although this collection contains plenty of hits—King, after all, is fully or partially responsible for a startling number of chart-topping songs—the word “essential” suggests a deeper purpose: to place King in the pantheon of 20th-century singer- songwriters, and the first female of the bunch. Disc One, The Singer, focuses on 18 of King’s own recordings, starting with 1962’s doo-wop-ish “It Might As Well Rain Until September.” To these ears, the remaining tunes offer a very mixed set. Aside from four selections from King’s sole masterpiece, Tapestry, too many of these songs sound alike—treacle-washed, piano-driven ballads sung in King’s limited, rather nasal voice, which, despite its limitations, admittedly holds an allure. Disc Two, The Songwriter, offers a far livelier overview of King’s undeniably powerful gifts. Fourteen of these 15 tunes were co-written with King’s then-husband, Gerry Goffin, including The Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care Of My Baby,” Little Eva’s catchy “The Loco-Motion,” Maxine Brown’s “Oh No Not My Baby,” Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and The Byrds’ “Wasn’t Born To Follow.” Sonics, while serviceable, range from scratchy and compressed to a solid C+.