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You Can Close Your Eyes

Music review: The Essential James Taylor

Does a buyer get his or her money’s worth with this 2 CD, 30 song collection?

Sony’s Legacy Recordings gets some props for truth in labeling with this collection. They could have simply placed James Taylor’s 20 best-selling singles on one CD and it would have constituted a purchase-worthy collection. Instead, on The Essential James Taylor the listener/purchaser has those 20 songs plus an additional 10 more on two CDs.

For any greatest hits collection there will be some quibbles. I would have left off the overly short “Long Ago and Far Away” (which seemed to be an idea for a song rather than a finished item, on which Taylor was accompanied by Joni Mitchell). Instead, I would have included “Mockingbird,” on which Taylor sang with his then-spouse Carly Simon – assuming the rights were available for licensing from Elektra/Warner. And I would have preferred “Suite for 20G” instead of the live take on “Steamroller.” Nevertheless, all of Taylor’s hits – as documented by their Pop and Adult Contemporary peak chart positions – and several lesser-known songs are found here.

The Essential James Taylor

“Honey Don’t Leave L.A.,” written by Danny Kortchmar, is one of the fun and unexpected selections in this compilation. Fortunately, “Her Town Too,” co-written and performed by Taylor and the very talented J.D. Souther, is included. There’s an interesting track, “Hard Times Come No More,” recorded with Yo-Yo Ma and a jaunty live version of the classic “Country Road.” “Secret O’ Life” – recorded live, is a nice surprise for those not previously familiar with it.

The second of the two CDs concludes almost perfectly with two inspiring and life-affirming songs performed live, “My Traveling Star” with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and “You Can Close Your Eyes.”

A word about the sound. This compilation was produced by Bill Inglot and mastered by Vic Anesini. Anesini has been involved in mastering several Legacy discs, including Over the Bridge of Time: A Paul Simon Retrospective (1964-2011). Here, the Inglot-Anesini team has delivered a set of discs with a nice, warm mid-range tone that’s generally pleasing to the ear. This collection is not a case where artificial “punch” and jarring loudness are added for dramatic effect. The sound is as soothing as Taylor’s voice. And Taylor’s and Kortchmar’s guitar work is easily heard in the mix. There are a couple of tracks that sound a bit flat, as if one were listening to the songs over a set of television speakers. But all in all, it’s a compilation that sounds consistently fine whether one is listening at home or in the car.

It’s a bit of a puzzle as to why Inglot placed the songs in almost, but not quite, chronological order. Perhaps it has to do with the segues, deciding which song would sound best followed by another particular song. I would not change a thing about the song order on either disc.

This fresh look at Taylor’s career that spans the years 1968 through 2007 reminds us that he is, like Paul Simon, a true American treasure. James Taylor’s music has not just helped to – in the words of the liner notes – “define a generation,” it helped a generation to grow, survive and prosper even when times seemed to be at their worst (“Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.”).

Thank goodness we’ve been able to experience his artistry in our times. How sweet it was and still is.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Sony Legacy Recordings.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site as an Editor’s Choice article:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-james-taylor-the-essential-james-taylor/

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Strong As You

Music Review: James McCartney – Me

Me James McCartneyMe

It’s not often that a musician releases his first full album at the age of 35, but that’s the case with James McCartney. James is not related to the pop rocker Jesse McCartney, but his father once wrote a catchy tune called “When I’m Sixty-Four.” It’s said that the senior McCartney also wrote a few other songs that have been played on the radio.

Me is an album about a person facing adversity in his life. He’s not sure about his love life, his career, his familial relationships, but he tries to display a stiff upper lip: “We’re on our own and we’ve got to go on….”; “I am strong enough to make it through / I am strong enough as strong as you….”; “You think I’m going to lose / But I will win in the end….” Still, he has his doubts, “…we’ve got to go but we can’t go on forever.”

Here’s a look at the lyrics and songs on McCartney’s Me:

“Strong As You” – “It’s hard for me to say how happy I am / Happy man….” On this single from the album, James sounds like Julian Lennon and the lead guitar part that he plays will remind some of George Harrison. Badfinger also comes to mind.

“Butterfly” – “Little bird you don’t quite understand / Everything is lying in the sand….” Here James sounds more like John Lennon, especially in the phrasing, than Julian. It’s a song that might have fit on the Imagine album and there’s a trace of Dave Mason’s “Sad and Deep As You” in the melody.

“You And Me Individually” – “You and me are different / You and me were different individually….” It’s acoustic guitar opening is reminiscent of “Blackbird” from The Beatles White Album and reflects the fact that James and his father reacted in different ways to the death of Linda McCartney. The lighter than air quality of the song shows that James may have listened to Harry Nilsson’s sui generis compositions.

“Snap Out of It” – “You know that I’m not here / The candle’s burning at both ends… And I know that I can make it / And I think that I can take it / I’m not going to fake it anymore….” This is a song that’s very much in the style of George Harrison, who often mixed fear and self-doubt with grit in his compositions.

“Bluebell” – “Something pulls me close to you / Like a moth to a flame like a music box / Unwinding rewinding / I’m on my own / I’ve got to go on but I can’t go on forever….” This melodic piece sounds like a cross between two of John Lennon’s songs, “Across the Universe” and “Beautiful Boy.” It’s nicely done although the slow pace of the music to this point begins to feel plodding. A change is on its way.

“Life’s A Pill” – “…now I’m bleeding still / I know the pain will leave / When troubles disappear… Life’s a pill give it to me now.” Now the rocking begins. “Pill” sounds like a merger of “Things We Said Today,” “Running On Empty,” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and it’s just a warm-up for the next track.

“Home” – “I kind of heard it on the radio / Oh my god what am I to do….” James and his musicians kick out the jams on a song that’s a melding of Wings’ “Helen Wheels,” “Magneto and Titanium Man,” and Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.” The drummer kicks, punches and violently pounds on the drum kit until it’s destroyed. Yes, some serious behind is kicked!

“Thinking About Rock & Roll” – “Walking around Disneyland / It’s so pretty me and Mickey the Mouse / And he turns and says / It’s so fine and it’s going to be mine / Life’s so fine and it’s already mine.” This is the “Silly Love Songs”-style track on the album. It’s a song about celebrating life and living and appreciating what one already has (rather than what one wants and desires). A bit silly, but fun.

“Wisteria” – “Baby if you know what love is for / Let me know what it means to you….” This one’s like a track from Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend album. It’s pure energy. Wisteria is apparently a woman’s name, although it might refer to Wisteria Lane.

“Mexico” – “Moving down to Mexico where the women treat you right / Moving down to Mexico where no one gives a shite….” A celebration of the joys of living in Mexico; it’s no threat to James Taylor’s song of the same name and theme.

“Snow” – “Nighttime falls on Manhattan city / New York like white snow / I’m on the fence for you / I’m in the zone glancing at you / Dancing with you for the very first time / Dance for the first time….” James channels John Lennon in a stunningly beautiful piano-based composition about love and winter in New York City. It’s like a lost love song written for Yoko Ono.

“Virginia” – “…my baby’s gone and left me… She left me at the station / And I don’t give a toss….” This is a non-essential bonus track that displays the McCartneys’ wry sense of humor. It would have fit well on the Wings Wild Life album.

Me is definitely a good album, but the question is where does James McCartney go from here? He is so clearly fascinated with the Lennon sound that it might make sense for him to join with 50-year-old Julian Lennon to jointly write and record a collection of songs together.

What would they call such an album? That’s easy, Lennon & McCartney.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review CD was provided by ECR Music Group.

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-james-mccartney-me/

This review was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-James-McCartney-Me-4637098.php

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