The Essential James Taylor

James Taylor

Columbia, 2013

http://jamestaylor.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/19/2013

The problem I always seem to have with albums in Columbia’s The Essential ______ series is that the tracks chosen rarely feel like they’re confined to only the most essential ones from that particular artist. Instead, these “new” collections are often treated as opportunities to take a batch of tunes most listeners already own and throw a handful of relative obscurities into the mix as fan-bait. The end result is often a collection that is definitely not new, and in some significant part not essential.

Now, to some extent track choices are like picking your fantasy baseball or football team—everyone has their favorites—but still, given the opportunity to pick the very best from the catalogue of an artist as talented and beloved as iconic singer-songwriter James Taylor, you’d like to believe that the powers that be would get it right.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And to be fair, much of the time here they do. Every single song from JT’s classic original Greatest Hits album can be found—even if some chicken-hearted executive edited that one mfing naughty word out of “Steamroller”—and much of Greatest Hits Volume 2 is similarly present, as it should be. That means warm-hearted classics like “Sweet Baby James,” “Fire And Rain,” “You’ve Got A Friend” and “Shower The People,” along with key later singles and album tracks like “Your Smiling Face,” “Millworker,” “Everyday” and “Copperline.”

The questionable choices all come on disc two, where several worthy cuts from GH2 get the ax in favor of mostly lesser substitutes. Where is “Up On The Roof,” still a concert staple today? Where is “That’s Why I’m Here,” one of JT’s most charming tunes of the ’80s? How could you possibly leave out his ’90s reunion with original bandmate Danny Kortchmar for the wonderful “(I’ve Got To) Stop Thinkin’ ’Bout That”?

Any one of those makes more sense than including “Only One,” a passable pop song, or “The Water Is Wide,” a pretty but inconsequential cover. The absence of both the stunning, gorgeous elegy to John Belushi “That Lonesome Road” and the stunning, gorgeous tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King “Shed A Little Light” is also inexplicable.

Last but not least, if you’re going to feature a collaboration with another artist, why would you choose “Hard Times Come Again No More,” featuring Yo-Yo Ma, rather than a track from Taylor’s spectacular 2010 teaming with Carole King, Live At The Troubadour? It’s madness, I tell you, madness.

Perhaps, in the end, we can agree on one thing. While it’s quite arguable whether these tracks are in fact the most essential ones in James Taylor’s catalogue, there can be no doubt about this: James Taylor, the artist whose timeless work as a singer-songwriter captured the hearts and minds of a generation, is indeed essential. Don’t let the nonsensical track choices made on disc two of this collection distract you from that simple fact.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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