Greatest Hits Volume 2

James Taylor

Sony, 2000

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


James Taylor’s Greatest Hits is one of those collections that was just inescapable in its day; everyone had it, everyone knew the songs by heart, and no one gave much thought to whether there might be a second volume one day. Spanning 12 tracks and including eight Top 40 hits, JT’s original hits collection was simply a powerhouse.

The thing is, it only captured the first seven albums and eight years of a career that has continued to this day. And while Taylor’s output has slowed markedly in recent years, in the 24 years between Greatest Hits and the turn of the millennium, he issued another seven studio albums containing several more high-charting hits, as well as numerous album cuts beloved by his loyal fan base.

The major differences between the original and Volume 2 amount to matters of scale. The first collection was crafted for a vinyl LP’s run length at 12 songs and 44 minutes; this one clocks in at 16 songs and a CD-friendly 63 minutes. Side One of the first collection mostly features JT solo or with a small combo anchored by Danny Kortchmar (guitar), Leland Sklar (bass), and Russell Kunkel (drums). By Side Two, he’s moved into mostly full-band arrangements, and Volume 2 features entirely full-band arrangements, increasingly with a chorus of background vocalists, and sprinkled with notable guest stars (Billy Payne, Tony Levin, David Sanborn, Jerry Douglas, Yo-Yo Ma, Stevie Wonder).

The collection opens with a trio of cuts from one of Taylor’s strongest-ever album releases, 1977’s JT. The lilting “Secret O’ Life” offers a topic sentence of sorts for Taylor’s entire comfort-food-for-the-soul catalogue: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” Despite never having been released as a single, it absolutely belongs here alongside a pair of charting hits from the album, the classic Motown cover “Handy Man” (#4 / #1 Adult Contemporary) and the ebullient love anthem “Your Smiling Face” (#20 / #6 Adult Contemporary). my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Taylor’s next two albums, Flag (1979) and Dad Loves His Work (1981) get just one song each, but they’re both excellent. Years after he first covered “Up On The Roof” as a member of pal Carole King’s band, Taylor’s own airy, celebratory recording of the Coasters classic rose to #28. Two years later, Taylor’s country-rock flavored duet with J.D. Souther, “Her Town Too,” made it to #11.

Taylor’s 1985 album That’s Why I’m Here marked a new phase as he eased comfortably into his mid-career status as a veteran performer who reveled in playing his increasingly iconic songbook to faithful fans: “Oh, some are like summer / Coming back every year / Got your baby, got your blanket / Got your bucket of beer / I break into a grin / From ear to ear / And suddenly / It's perfectly clear / That's why I'm here.” The just-quoted title track and buoyant Buddy Holly cover “Everyday” were both Top 10 Adult Contemporary hits; interestingly, the also-charting “Only One” was dropped for this collection in favor of a couple of Taylor’s favorite album tracks, “Only A Dream In Rio” and “Song For You Far Away.”

The title track—and only charting single—from 1988’s Never Die Young follows, a cautionary tale of hard-living friends gone too soon. Then we’re into a pair of cuts from 1991’s underrated New Moon Shine, the funked-up “(I’ve Got To) Stop Thinkin’ ’Bout That”—on which he reunited with old buddy Kortchmar—and the shimmering “Copperline.” A third New Moon Shine track, the gospel-inflected Martin Luther King tribute “Shed A Little Light,” is a highlight, heard here in its magnificent concert rendering from 1993’s double-disc collection Live.

Taylor’s 1997 album Hourglass earns three tracks here even though only one charted, but it’s understandable when you consider the album hit #9, won a Grammy, and most likely made this latter-day hits collection a reality. “Another Day” is solid enough, an ode to “the promise of another day” that’s as much determined as it is optimistic. “Little More Time With You” is a sweetly funky love song lit up by guest Stevie Wonder’s harmonica, and closer “Enough To Be On Your Way” is a somber, moving, at times raw elegy for Taylor’s oldest brother Alex.

Taylor’s description of Hourglass as “spirituals for agnostics” could serve just as well as a summation of his entire remarkable catalogue. Although he remains best known for his earliest, most introspective work, this collection, like the era it chronicles, favors more upbeat fare. While the songs on Greatest Hits Volume 2 may not achieve the status of American standards as consistently as his original Greatest Hits, they neatly encapsulate the very strong and often underappreciated second act of Taylor’s career.

Rating: A-

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