James Taylor

Hear Music, 2008

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Given the number of name acts who’ve put out covers albums in recent years, it’s hardly a surprise to learn that the original sensitive singer-songwriter himself, James Taylor, has now done the same.  Shoot, as Taylor himself points out in the liner notes here, some of the biggest hits of his career -- “You’ve Got A Friend,” “How Sweet It Is,” “Up On The Roof,” “Handyman” -- have been cover tunes.

So if the concept doesn’t really qualify as a surprise, how about the execution?

Here there’s a little more to bite into for, unburdened by his own tendency to write slowly and therefore record sporadically, Taylor invited his 11-person “Band of Legends” – a frankly mind-blowing assemblage of musical talent – to record this entire album over the space of ten days in the dead of winter in a converted barn in Western Massachusetts. 

The Band of Legends line-up features Steve Gadd (drums), Jimmy Johnson (bass), Michael Landau (guitar), Larry Goldings (piano, organ), Luis Conte (percussion), Lou Marini, Jr. (horns), Walt Fowler (horns, keys), Andrea Zonn (vocals, fiddle) and my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Taylor’s longtime background chorus of Arnold McCuller, David Lasley and Kate Markowitz.  If you’re not impressed yet, just try looking up the session credits of guys like Gadd and Landau and Conte and Marini on  I mean, *damn*.

The end result, while hardly transcendent – this is playful, fun-loving JT, not introspective, soul-searching James – is pretty hard not to enjoy.  Early highlights include the Holland-Dozier-Holland nugget “(I’m A) Road Runner” – which actually meshes nicely with Taylor’s deep oeuvre of road songs – and the almost giddy “Some Days You Gotta Dance,” where the horns really get to shine.  Favorite Taylor songwriters Jimmy Webb (“Wichita Lineman”), Leonard Cohen (“Suzanne”) and Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (“Hound Dog”) also get affectionate nods.

Towards the end you’re treated to a trio of familiar numbers.  “On Broadway” gets a country-soul reading that charms in a completely different way than George Benson’s finger-snapping singalong.  “Summertime Blues” sounds somewhat neutered with horns and a background chorus replacing The Who’s immortal power trio, but it’s certainly faithful to the spirit of the Eddie Cochran original, and Landau does stick his solo.  And “Not Fade Away” is a natural closer that Taylor adds some welcome funk to, bringing a little taste of that other James (Brown, that is) to the famous Buddy Holly version.

Covers is the sound of a band of consummate pros having a good time.  It’s not going to be for everyone – it’s pretty mellow and old-school even for the JT crowd, and separated from his own penetrating and often poetic lyrics, Taylor’s overall musical vibe can feel a bit bland – but if you’re able to sit back and appreciate a true band of legends delivering sharp, enthusiastic performances of songs that are just plain fun to play, you’ll have a good time with this disc.

Rating: B

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© 2008 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.