CD Review ‘The Essential James Taylor’: Sweet, Baby


I’m a rocker — so why would I love James Taylor?

Ever heard of a song being “unplugged”? If it’s good enough for the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Melissa Etheridge, it’s good enough for me — and so is Taylor, who, after all, has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Without question, a voice and an acoustic guitar can get it done, as Taylor has for over 40 years as a recording artist, years from which 30 songs have been gathered for The Essential James Taylor, a new two-disc collection from Legacy/Sony.

Besides, if you want rock energy you’ll find it on two — count ’em — of these tracks: the vibrant blues bent of Steamroller and a rousing live performance of Country Road. Positioned in the middle of discs one and two, they’ll wake you up if you need it.

But mostly this music is about gentle songcraft, simple but eloquent strumming and one of the most smooth and tender voices in pop, restfully reassuring us How Sweet It Is, Everyday because You’ve Got a Friend.

Those and many more hits span these discs, starting with the lullabye Sweet Baby James and Taylor’s cathartic breakout track as a singer-songwriter, Fire And Rain, both from his initial Warner Bros. record in 1970.

Yes, this is the first assemblage of material from that label and Columbia, though his 1968 debut disc on the Beatles’ Apple isn’t represented. But uniting his Warner and Columbia work in one collection is noteworthy, since he recorded so much for each label.

While Taylor hasn’t evolved much during that time (what — no rap? — just kidding),  he’s certainly worn well, sustaining a mellow vibe like a reliable Handyman, ever ready to Shower the People with love.

And what could be more sweet, baby?

— Bruce Westbrook



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