John Metzger's #25 album for 2008
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2008, Volume 15, #10
Written by John Metzger
Tue October 7, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
It would be perfectly understandable if fans were to assume that James Taylor was trying to overcome a bout of writerís block. After all, when an artist introduces a stream of retrospectives, concert albums, and collections of cover songs to the marketplace rather than new material ó as Taylor has done of late ó it generally is because he is buying time until his wayward Muse returns home to roost. Taylor, however, seems to be following this approach for an entirely different reason. On both One Man Band and his current endeavor Covers, he doesnít sound as if he is searching for something he has lost. Instead, he comes across as a contented individual who simply is having a grand old time, enjoying the process of making music. In truth, Taylor hasnít appeared to be this relaxed and at home with himself in years.
Throughout his career, Taylor has had a habit of co-opting othersí songs and giving the illusion that they were his own. While itís true that he has a tendency to dull the edges of the material, his laid-back charm also brings warmth to times of darkness. Even when he is angry, disappointed, or frustrated, he delivers his message with the optimistic smile of an old friend. Whether heís delving into the lonely isolation of Jimmy Webbís Wichita Lineman, exploring the hopelessly tenuous relationship of George Jonesí Why Baby Why, or mourning the destruction of the natural world in Seminole Wind, Taylor applies to all 12 of the tracks that fill Covers the same tactics that he always has used, and the results are as delightful as ever.
Affably blurring the lines among country, folk, blues, and soul styles, Taylor never quite settles into any particular camp. Nevertheless, he fully inhabits the songs on Covers, allowing them not only to envelop him but also to dictate the path that he follows. In fact, the way in which Taylor delivers each tune is so effortless that itís easy to take his accomplishments for granted, especially since the approach he took to Itís Growing ó the setís opening track ó follows closely in the footsteps of How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You), one of his biggest hits from the 1970s. Throughout Covers, Taylor resists the urge to push anything where it doesnít already want to go, yet he simultaneously is able to bring his own perspective to the material.
Itís one thing to tackle tunes that are, perhaps, less familiar to the masses and make them feel fresh and new, but even seminal cuts such as Hound Dog, Summertime Blues, and Not Fade Away are rendered without pretension, as Taylor and his band deftly dodge convention. On Summertime Blues, for example, he forsakes the air of youthful rebellion that its author Eddie Cochran meant to capture ó and The Who pounded into shape ó while On Broadway adopts hints of a lazy, bossa nova groove. Although the steaminess of the latter trackís arrangement could have enhanced the troubled oppression of its lyrics, Taylorís rendition sounds strangely comforting. In the end, his playful spirit is what ultimately transforms the material on Covers into a celebration of the songs he holds close to his heart. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
Covers is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box