James Taylor – One Man Band (Craft Recordings)
A very fine concert recording makes its debut on vinyl
For an artist who’s been making music for over 50 years, James Taylor has very few live recordings under his belt. His best, One Man Band, was released in 2007, but has never been available on vinyl – until now, thanks to Craft Recordings.
One of Taylor’s strengths is his warmth, and it comes through in waves on this 2-LP set. The title, One Man Band, might have you think that it’s a solo, acoustic thing, when actually it refers to the one accompanist, Larry Goldings, who plays piano, organ and bass throughout.
Honestly, Goldings should be given equal billing, as many times the two musicians interlock, as on a very fine run through of “Country Road,” where Taylor’s voice is surprisingly strong as well. Unlike so many of his rock contemporaries (Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant, etc), James Taylor never screamed. Perhaps that’s why, unlike them, he’s still got his voice, fully intact, after all these years.
Of the 19 total songs, most are familiar, but there are surprises too. Goldings shows off his boogie woogie chops on “Mean Old Man,” while “Chili Dog,” originally from One Man Dog, is good fun. There’s a “drum machine” (actually a real person) on the funky “Slap Leather,” while a backup choir joins things on “My Traveling Star.”
Taylor is the ever-professional. Just think how many thousands of times he’s done “You’ve Got a Friend.” Yet, he still turns in a mesmerizing performance where his voice is clear, and his finger picking is as supple as ever. He’s always been an underrated guitarist, and he shows off his chops on electric guitar on “Steamroller Blues.” In fact, this may be the finest version of that song ever put to tape. With Taylor on electric and Goldings on Hammond, there’s lots of space for each musician to roam.
The choir returns for the gospel-tinged “Shower the People,” before Taylor does a solo acoustic “Sweet Baby James.” He does tell a few stories, like the inspiration behind “Carolina in My Mind.”
The mostly-acoustic instrumentation sounds fabulous in the vinyl format. The LP’s are quiet, and the music leaps out of the speakers. The gatefold jacket shows off a nice photo of the venue, The Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Taylor did release the album Live in 1993, and it sold millions of copies. Yet, that concert is a full band recording, which dulls some of his appeal. At his roots, James Taylor is one of the greatest songwriters of our time. One Man Band gives his talents a chance to fully shine. —Tony Peters