One Man Band (CD/DVD)

James Taylor

Hear Music, 2007

http://jamestaylor.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/19/2007

Over the years, James Taylor has surprised more than a few concert-goers with the size of his sound when he goes out with his usual six or seven-piece group plus three or four background vocalists.  He began his career as quite literally the prototypical sensitive folk-rocker, and he mostly sticks to acoustic guitar regardless of the size of the band around him, but until last year it had been almost 30 years since he’d toured solo. 

Last year, however, he decided to “go back to the well,” as he puts it in the liner notes that also form the opening narration to the DVD that accompanies this live CD.  The results, while they’re unlikely to change anyone’s minds about the original introspective singer-songwriter, are an excellent representation of Taylor in his natural element: playing to the home crowd.  If that state of events wasn’t evident from the fact that this set was assembled from a trio of shows in Taylor’s hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, it surely is when the show’s introductory applause is interrupted by a fan shouting “go Red Sox!” 

From there you are treated to 19 tracks' worth of James and his guitar, with just pianist Larry Goldings -- and a couple of technologically-generated special guests -- accompanying him.  Acoustic classics like “Something In The Way She Moves” and “Sweet Baby James” receive familiar treatments and in that sense serve as touchstones to the changes wrought to traditionally full-band tunes like “Country Road” and “Copperline,” which are necessarily somewhat transformed.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

What the changes really accomplish, though, is to simply crystallize what is so appealing about Taylor -- this is comfort music, minor-key melodies and lyrics that feel like one of those intense conversations you have on the back porch at a family gathering, avoiding the surrounding drama for a moment of incisive reflection and connection.  When Taylor sings “You’ve Got A Friend” for the thousandth time since 1970, you believe it just like the first time.

One of the nice touches here is that Taylor does not treat this like greatest hits show.  One of the reasons, in fact, that he continues to pull in substantial crowds every year while only putting out a new album once or twice a decade is that in concert he continues to pull half-forgotten nuggets out of his existing songbook and revive them, while continuing to let some of the regulars evolve.  “Steamroller Blues,” an example of the latter, is stripped down here to just organ and James’ single electric guitar performance of the show, yet loses none of the “burnin’ funk” for which it is so well loved.  More unusual treats like the ornery “Slap Leather” -- delivered via megaphone -- and the blues romp “Chili Dog” add genuine spice to the proceedings. 

There are of course, certain staples that never leave the set, but it’d be easier to imagine a Rolling Stones show without “Satisfaction” than a JT show without “Fire And Rain.”  And the thing about classics like “Fire,” “Secret O’Life” and “Carolina In My Mind” is that they retain such emotional resonance even after all these years that you know you’d miss them if they weren’t there.

As for the DVD, the big difference and real pleasure there is in observing moments like the introductory Red Sox shout-out play out in full -- Taylor is a natural storyteller and gifted, rather Garrison Keillor-esque humorist -- homespun but deadly-sharp with his wit.  His acid retort about the Yankees is hilarious and earns Joe Torre a written apology in the liner notes.  Numerous other stories and sidebars -- heavily edited for the CD version -- make it onto the DVD and turn it into a true evening with Mr. Taylor, as opposed to simply a musical performance.

 

One Man Band is everything a Taylor fan could want or expect, and well worth paying the extra freight to get the DVD as well. 

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2007 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Hear Music, and is used for informational purposes only.