Country Road: An Acoustic Tribute To James Taylor
CMH Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/19/2001
Of all the discs I listened to featuring country-tinged tributes to contemporary artists, no one artist seemed like they would be a perfect fit like James Taylor. For over 30 years, Taylor has been the modern-day version of the troubador, making people who claim they don't like folk music become devotees to his own style of the genre. I was recently in a record store, and overheard someone ask the clerk who Taylor was -- and I wanted to slap some sense into them. "Fire And Rain"... "You've Got A Friend"... "Sweet Baby James"... he's a freakin' legend, for crissake!
The musicians who take part in Country Road: An Acoustic Tribute To James Taylor obviously do the best job they can, and their musicianship is without peer. But there is is something about this disc which doesn't make it the most approachable.
Maybe, just maybe, this is because those who planned this album aimed it towards Taylor's diehard fans, those who know Taylor's entire discography forwards and backwards. For these people, this disc has to be a wonderful shrine to Taylor. For those of us, though, who are most familiar with Taylor's hit singles, sometimes this collection drifts off into unfamiliar territory.
If you know songs like "Mexico," "Shower The People" and "Fire And Rain," you'll greatly appreciate the mandolin-rich arrangements of these songs presented on Country Road. While Taylor never really leaned towards country music in his writings, he did have his roots in acoustic music, and these songs adapt well to the introduction of mandolin, dobro and the like. Unlike some of the volumes from this series of tributes, you couldn't claim that this is bluegrass; the original styles of these songs are not changed much.
Then we get to songs like "Me And My Guitar," "Anywhere Like Heaven," "You Can Close Your Eyes" and "Riding On A Railroad." The arrangements are pleasant enough, I admit, but I also find myself in the position of not being familiar enough with Taylor's catalog to know how true to the originals these versions are. Some of the magic is lost, simply because these aren't the most familiar songs of Taylor's that could have been chosen.
I'm not suggesting that Country Road should have only been a collection of hits re-arranged for fans of acoustic-based country music. After all, the goal in a tribute album is for musicians who enjoy Taylor's music to lovingly adapt their favorite songs to their style of playing. Yet I can't help but wonder if this disc would be more approachable (and, at times, interesting) if songs like "You've Got A Friend" had been included. It might have just made this disc a little more accessible for some people.