The Legends of Laurel Canyon
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best
Transfiguration of Vincent
Christmas in the Heart
Glitter and Doom Live
Let It Roll: The Best of George Harrison
Secret, Profane & Sugarcane
Playing for Change
When I think of James Taylor, I think of him as a songwriter. In the early part of his career, “Fire and Rain” established his reputation as a deeply personal and forthright scribe, and that impression has stuck ever since. A quick perusal of his pop hits tells a contradictory story, though. “You’ve Got a Friend” was written and recorded by Carole King. “Handy Man” (Jimmy Jones), “How Sweet It Is” (Marvin Gaye), “Wonderful World” (Sam Cooke), “Up On the Roof” (The Drifters) and even “Mockingbird” (recorded with Carly Simon, but originally recorded by Inez and Charlie Foxx) tell a quite different tale, painting sweet Baby James as a first class interpreter of other people’s songs.
As the title makes plain, “Covers” continues in this interpretive tradition. As you would expect, the feeling is laid back and relaxed, while Taylor puts his distinct imprint on each recording. Recorded near his home in Lenox, Massachusetts, the band is first rate, leaving plenty of space for the songs (and Taylor) to breathe. The song selection is varied, and somewhat predictable. “It’s Growing” is a Smokey Robinson song that provides a lyrical variation on Taylor’s own tune, “Your Smiling Face”, as both are built around the theme of a love that “grows stronger every day.” Vintage, first class songwriters provide much of the material here. Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” is an all-time favorite of mine, and the version here is respectful and pleasant. John Anderson’s lush and haunting “Seminole Wind” is performed with grace and beauty. The same can be said of Taylor’s reading of the Drifters’ “On Broadway” and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” Each of these recordings is as comfortable as a flannel shirt and a cup of hot cocoa.
On the other hand, a few songs come off as a bit of a reach. “Hound Dog” has already been defined and redefined to perfection, and James is simply too laid back to lean on Big Mama Thornton’s version of the recording. “Summertime Blues” is another oft-recorded number that cannot benefit when interpreted by a member of AARP. Still in all, the diversity of the selections saves the day, and makes the collection work. Taylor’s reading of “Some Days You Gotta Dance” (originally recorded by the Dixie Chicks) is surprisingly refreshing, as is his faithful rendition of the Spinners’ “Sadie,” while Jr, Walker’s “Roadrunner” sounds like it could be Taylor’s next hit single. There is little here to surprise the listener, but this record isn’t about surprises, it’s about comfort.
Buy it now! -