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Carly glides into concert mode

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NEW YORK -- Carly Simon has been famously ambivalent about performing live, but she may have discovered the cure to stage fright: the fox trot.

You can do that old-time dance, Simon explains, to any of the tunes on Moonlight Serenade, her fourth collection of standards, released in July. So when she started planning the "Serenade Tour" -- her first proper concert trek in more than a decade -- the singer thought about doing a series of shows in ballroom settings, "where people could dance while I sing."

Simon, 60, kicked off her sojourn in high style over the Labor Day weekend with a pair of gigs aboard the mother of all luxury liners, the Queen Mary 2, during a six-night crossing from New York to Southampton, England.

For those who couldn't grab a ticket, A Moonlight Serenade on the Queen Mary 2 Concert is due on DVD Nov. 22.The Serenade Tour will begin in earnest shortly before that, on Nov. 19. Rather than floating through ballrooms, though, Simon will bring tunes from Serenade and her extensive catalog to intimate theaters around the country.

Second-generation troubadours Ben and Sally Taylor, Simon's grown children by former husband James Taylor, will lend support by singing selections with their mother, and Ben will open for Simon. Simon was one of the first baby-boomer pop stars to embrace pre-rock classics. In 1981, she released Torch, "much to the chagrin of my record company president at the time," she says, referring to legendary Warner Bros. exec Mo Ostin.

"He thought it was going to ruin my career, and the album basically wasn't promoted. But he has come up to me since then and said it was the biggest mistake he made."

The singer is pleased that "a lot of other singer/songwriters have started to discover that music lately. Everyone can put their personal stamp on those great songs."

After her upcoming string of performances, Simon hopes to resume other works in progress, from a new children's book to a play inspired in part by John Forte, a former member of The Fugees whom she befriended through Ben.

Forte was arrested on drug trafficking charges in 2000 and is serving a 14-year prison term.

"The punishment doesn't fit the crime," Simon says. "I've done everything I can to get him out, or at least get him a fairer trial."

She found an ally in Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah: "He got John moved to Fort Dix, closer to his mom and friends in New York. Orrin got John a guitar, too."

Her concession to touring aside, Simon herself is looking forward to spending more time pursuing domestic projects at her Martha's Vineyard, Mass., compound with her family and pets, which include two horses, three dogs, sheep and a miniature donkey. "I have this great love affair with my home, being there with my kids and animals. That's where my heart is."

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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