James Taylor’s most recent album “Before this World” debuted at #1 in 2015. I’ve been listening to him my whole life, along with almost everyone I grew up with, but I had never seen him live until Saturday night when he played at UTC’s McKenzie arena to a near-capacity crowd.
This new album is a good listen. It feels mellower and broader than some of his earlier work, orchestral in arrangement but understated. The fiddle, flugelhorn, 3 cellists including Yo-Yo Ma, steel guitar and Taylor’s own distinctive finger picking style make up its broad landscape.
My two favorite cuts are the last two, “Far Afghanistan” and his remake of Robert Tannahill’s traditional favorite, “Wild Mountain Thyme.”
Taylor's life has been an open book, read out in the public, played over the radio with chapters told in his distinctive storytelling fashion about recovery from heroin addiction, treatment for psychiatric disorders and the pitfalls of learning too much too fast.
His relaxed and contemplative nature were an easy read tonight as he talked back to the audience, spoke about how much he enjoyed visiting Chattanooga, and made jokes in his self-deprecating way.
It might be time to go back and listen again to the other albums. James Taylor rode the back of a rocket in the form of the Beatle’s Apple Record label, where Paul McCartney and George Harrison were guest musicians on one of his first recordings, “Carolina on my Mind.” He was the first non-British artist signed to their label.
Taylor's life is distinctive and relatable. Love found and lost, a near fatal motorcycle accident, battles with personal demons and now with hindsight, he’s still able to pour that out into haunting music that sounds distinctly James Taylor with a voice seemingly unchanged by time.
“['Fire and Rain'] is sort of almost uncomfortably close, almost confessional. The reason I could write a song like that at that point, and probably couldn't now, is that I didn't have any sense that anyone would hear it. I started writing the song while I was in London...and I was totally unknown.... So I assumed that they would never be heard. I could just write or say anything I wanted. Now I'm very aware, and I have to deal with my stage fright and my anxiety about people examining or judging it. The idea that people will pass judgment on it is not a useful thought.”