Sunday, November 25, 2012
Vinyl Rediscovery: James Taylor
This is a more upbeat James Taylor than the one you'll hear on Sweet Baby James; songs like "Carolina in My Mind" (with McCartney on bass and George Harrison on guitar or vocals or both, in a much more engaging arrangement than the re-recorded version Taylor did later for his Greatest Hits album), "Night Owl," "Sunshine Sunshine," and "Something in the Way She Moves" have a genuine optimism and joy to them. (And if that line "Something in the Way She Moves" sounds familiar, it's probably because George Harrison borrowed it for his mega-selling song "Something.") Even "Knocking 'Round the Zoo," which references his time in a mental institution, has an upbeat tone that juxtaposes with the lyric's manic quality.
But I've always thought the real genius of this album was Peter Asher's arrangements. Asher came up with hhe idea of composing links between each song—musical bits that carry listeners from one track to the next (some have said that Asher came up with this idea in conversation with Paul McCartney, but Taylor gave credit for it to Asher himself, and it seems more Asher-esque). Richard Hewson composed most of the links, using string quartets, harp, acoustic guitar, percussion--whatever Hewson felt would best carry the listener from one specific song to the next. I've never known another album to plan its musical flow in such a distinctive way, and it hooked me from the first time I heard it. And that's why, as far as I'm concerned, this is an album that really needs to be heard one whole side at a time in order; any other means of listening reduces the links to unusual intros/outros that don't really accomplish anything.
James Taylor was every bit as entertaining today as it was more than four decades ago, and well worth tracking down.