The return of the troubador in stripped back form...
Chris Jones 2007-11-29
For an entire generation James Taylor has been a one man byword for quiet integrity, acoustic honesty and the be-denim-ed, back-to-the-country kinda singer songwriter. There's even an argument for blaming him for the unforgivable adoption of dungarees as a fashion statement around 1972. But no mind, his words and music always had a delightful sweetness that offset any sense of twee confessional. One Man Band, accompanied by a Sydney Pollack-directed biographical DVD, is a back-to-basics resume of his most resilient compositions recorded in front of a hometown crowd in Massachussets. It shows exactly why he's still held dear in the USA.
Perhaps the most incongruous thing about Taylor these days is that while, inevitably, time has robbed him of his hippie pin-up locks, his voice remains as sweet and boyish as ever. Not for nothing was he nicknamed 'Sweet Baby James' by Carole King. It's a thing of delicate emotive power, allowing the almost-cloying lyrics associated with this genre of 'sensitive' songwriting to raise themselves above sheer sentimentality. Coupled with his distinctive picking style this is a treat for fans as well as anyone who's forgotten his ubiquity in past times.
The truth is, from his first single that got him noticed by Apple records (" Something In The Way She Moves") through his greatest hits like " Fire And Rain" and "You've Got A Friend" to the more sophisticated jazzy, humour of " Mean Old Man" (aided by the dazzling piano of Larry Goldings) Taylor is a man for who this seems as natural as breathing. Only on the strangely funky-drum-machine-and-organ experiment of "Slap Leather" does he falter but it's a small slip in an album filled with classy sure-footedness. He provided succour for a post-Vietnam America, he now continues the job for all of us. Long may he continue.