Safe Home

Livingston Taylor

Chesky Records, 2017

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Remember that time you went over to that friend’s house who you knew had a musical background and a piano in their living room and an acoustic guitar lying around? And you went just expecting a dinner party, but after dessert people drifted over to the piano and gathered around and started singing songs, and one person would sing one, and then another would sing the next, and a lot of them would be standards or familiar pop tunes, but a few might even be your host’s own compositions?

That’s what the aptly-named Safe Home feels like: an impromptu after-dinner living room concert with Livingston Taylor and friends. Taylor’s voice has that rich, unique timbre of New England-by-way-of-North-Carolina that he and his brother James have made famous, lending both his vocals and his superb acoustic guitar picking a sense of instant familiarity and comfort.

Over the years, Taylor’s voice has picked up some rough edges that he doesn’t try to hide here; it feels like he’s purposely singing in a relaxed way, delivering a comfortably lived-in performance. He’s also a decidedly generous host, giving his protégé Chelsea Berry the bulk of the lead vocals; she has a rich, honeyed voice that’s well-suited for this sort of playful standards-and-originals vocal pop mélange. The pair are backed primarily by Shelly Berg on piano, with support from Dave Finck (bass) and Bashiri Johnson (percussion).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The track list for this album, recorded in a two-day marathon in December 2015, is all over the place, sifting four LT originals in with classics by Rodgers & Hammerstein (“It Might As Well Be Spring”), Paul McCartney (“Penny Lane”), Irving Berlin (“Anything You Can Do”), and the Everly Brothers (“Bye Bye Love,” composed by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant).

Taylor-penned opener “I Must Be Doing Something Right” in fact has the timeless feel of a Cole Porter tune, with characteristic LT playfulness and wit. The interesting part—and maybe the point, not all that subtly made—is how easily and naturally we segue from there into a mashup of know-them-by-heart showtunes from The Wizard Of Oz. Taylor sings “The Merry Old Land Of Oz” in the tones of a grandfather telling the story to his grandchild, before the mood shifts mid-track and Berry takes over lead vocals for a brave, sparkling take on “Over The Rainbow.” (Though admittedly, when the increasingly gruff-voiced Taylor comes in on harmonies it feels a bit like the Cowardly Lion busting in on Dorothy’s big number.)

The other three Taylor originals here have that same timeless flavor to them. The interesting part is that Taylor doesn’t sing lead on any of them, preferring to let Berry shine on the appropriately jazzy Louie Armstrong tribute “Louie Is Blowing The World Away,” the regretful piano ballad “Shouldn’t Have Fallen For You,” and the contemplative “Answer My Prayer.” When Taylor does take the lead vocal, it’s for pop standards like Rodgers & Hart’s “My Romance,” previously covered by longtime friend and former sister-in-law Carly Simon.

The arrangements of the poppier standards are points of interest; “Penny Lane” is reimagined as a piano-based lounge jazz duet, while “Bye Bye Love” varies from the well-known Everly Brothers/Simon & Garfunkel arrangement mostly because Taylor and Berry’s voices offset and contrast one another rather than blend.  

Taylor’s primary gig these days is as a faculty member at Berklee College of Music, and it’s not hard to imagine Professor Taylor presenting this album to his students as a case study in performing (and modeling) the classics. Something of a lark that often feels like it was recorded mostly for the artist’s own satisfaction, Safe Home nonetheless offers equal measures of comfort and joy in an uncertain age—and for that, we should all be grateful.

Rating: B

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© 2017 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 Chesky Records, and is used for informational purposes only.