One Man Band
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2007, Volume 14, #11
Written by John Metzger
Sun November 25, 2007, 08:45 AM CST
Despite the easy-going demeanor of his work, James Taylor has traversed some rather dark roads in his life. This makes One Man Band, his latest concert set, all the more of a joy to hear. Recorded over the course of several nights at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the collection, not surprisingly, finds Taylor in a reflective mood. Unlike similar sets, however, Taylor doesnít deliver his material from the perspective of an artist who has lost his way and is trying to reconnect with his past. Rather, he views his experiences from the other side of the abyss. Using self-deprecating humor, he laughs at his mistakes and embraces his growth as a person. Spurred by the happiness he has found both in his relationship with his third wife Caroline "Kim" Smedvig as well as in his home in the Berkshires, One Man Band is a charming and engaging portrait of a person who has made peace with himself. Consequently, it plays like a well-deserved celebration of Taylorís life and work.
For the record, One Man Bandís title is a bit of a misnomer. On almost every song he tackles, Taylor is joined by pianist Larry Goldings, who lends a jazzy flair and sympathetic undercurrent to the proceedings. Taylor also wheels out a drum machine on several occasions, which gives him the ability to add some bite to the blues-y Slap Leather and the lighthearted Chili Dog. He leans heavily on a multimedia presentation that allows him not only to pipe in backing vocals from the Tanglewood Festival Chorus but also to augment his dialogue with an array of personal photos and home videos. Nevertheless, the gospel choir, which accompanies him on My Traveling Star and Shower the People, is particularly problematic. Although the entirety of his performance is well-rehearsed and completely staged, the pre-filmed images and backing vocals disturb the intimacy and remove the illusion of spontaneity that so carefully have been sculpted throughout the rest of the show.
Taylor clearly is at his best when, after providing candid glimpses into his personal history, he delivers his songs without fanfare. Over the course of the concerts that were compiled for One Man Band, he discusses, among other things, his first car, his relationship with his parents, his signing with The Beatlesí Apple Records, and the days he spent in Los Angeles performing at the Troubadour and working alongside Carole King. As he relays his anecdotes and then sings tunes such as Sweet Baby James and Youíve Got a Friend ó in a voice that remains as smooth and soulful as ever ó itís impossible not to be struck by the purity of Taylorís performance. He may be polite and refined, but his confessional approach turns the outing into something more than just another waltz through his greatest hits. Few songwriters, this late in their careers, are able to give such emotionally honest presentations of their material, especially when they have been playing the same selections night after night for decades. Although One Man Band falters on occasion, it succeeds, more often than not, in transforming the magical connection between Taylor and his audience into something that is equally palpable to home viewers. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box