November 19, 2010

Music Is...James Taylor

Or JT, whichever you'd like to call him, that's a heavy name in the world of music.

What made me want to step back and take a look at some of the music James Taylor has created is again due to my mom. She was looking up and down the house trying to find a CD of various songs of his that she burned. You should have seen her. Anyway, to make a long story short, she found it and had me immediately make another copy and I'm glad I did. I imported all the songs into my iTunes library and let my ears relax. I tell you, you never know how good something sounds until you listen to it after awhile. The photo above is just a random find. I assume it's from a concert or some sort of live appearance. I just wanted something showcasing what he does best, playing that guitar and making good jams. James Taylor has a large catalog of music. He's been doing his thing since the late 60's, and is still going strong. As with any artist, Taylor has his ups and downs. I like to look at the upside to things so I'll try to stick with that. From 1972 - 1981, he was married to Carly Simon. That relationship was inspiration for him to create some of my favorite songs of which she's been on the background vocals of a few. I've always felt that you can only write from a few influences: the past, what could have been, the present, what you want to be, and something totally fantasized. From what I've read and learned here recently James derived most of his songs just from life experiences and observances and hey, that makes sense to me. Main thing I have to say about this man that he plays one heck of a guitar. What gets me is not just the melody alone, but the fluidity of the song as a whole. The way the notes go in and out of each other always gets me. None of his songs are long at all, at least to me. I know that he's done numerous live performances and there is always room to improvise and stretch the song a little longer. I'm usually a fan of the original, but I'm up for a change. 

Onto the music...I have many favorites. One would be "Fire and Rain" from his 1970 release of Sweet Baby James. New to me is the backdrop of the song, his battle with handling a friends suicide and his experiences in mental institutions. A messed up situation, however he was able to turn that into a memorable tune. This is the only song I've heard from this album so I'll have to listen to the others one day, but if this one song is any indication of the tone of the record, I look forward to it. 
Skipping  about two years ahead, we have the release of the 1972 album One Man Dog. From this I decided to pick two songs to discuss. First up we have "Chili Dog". That's right "Chili Dog", and the title is pretty self explanatory. This man wants his hot dog with no onions, no sauerkraut, no relish, no ketchup either if I'm right. He does want mustard and, you guessed it, chili. As far as I'm concerned, any title that contains food is alright with me. Next is "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight". The chord progression is beautiful, and towards the last 40 seconds or so, I love the saxophone, I think its a sax. A really relaxing song overall and worth the time. 1975's Gorilla features "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)", originally by Marvin Gaye, with his then wife Carly providing some backup vocals. 
 From 1977 comes his eighth album (WOW) titled JT. This release featured many hits that I like, including "Your Smiling Face", "Handy Man", and "Terra Nova". Taking nothing away from the other singles, my all time favorite from this record would have to be "Secret O' Life" mainly because of its subtlety and how the theme of the song, which is letting things occur naturally and enjoying yourself, matches the melody and the tempo. Kinda smooth sailing. Like it says, "Try not to try too hard". I can't skip Flag(1979) and Dad Loves His Work(1981). The 79' album includes "Rainy Day Man", "Sleep Come Free Me" and "Up On The Roof", all excellent. The 81' record illuminates "Her Town Too", "That Lonesome Road", "Believe It Or Not" and "Hard Times". That one,"Hard Times", reminds me of The Commodores "Easy" released four years earlier, influence I guess. A single, off his debut album James Taylor, I saved for last is "Carolina In My Mind". This has been known as sort of an unofficial anthem for North Carolina, and being that NC has been my home for over 19 years, I couldn't ignore it. 

I know I only skimmed the surface of 7 albums out of many, but it's clear to me that what is discussed here have a commonality between them. They all have withheld a sound that only James Taylor can produce. All of them have this smooth, folk sound at the base that give them a 'twang'. None of them are too flashy or over the top. Each song has a catchy beat, that can easily calm you down, cheer you up, even make you dance a lil' bit. Go ahead an throw on some JT, and I guarantee he wont let you down.

Something to get you goin'.

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