|James Taylor - October Road|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Dan MacIntosh|
|Tuesday, 13 August 2002|
Time can do funny things to some people. Take James Taylor, for example. He began as a psychologically troubled, heroin-addicted folk singer in the clubs of New York City. Fast forward to today. Taylor is now buddies with a former president (Bill Clinton), he performs with large symphonies before audiences of mostly grandparents and he’s depicted as a relaxed Southern gentleman on the back cover of his new October Road album. That's one heck of a long way from the mean streets.
But Taylor’s lifestyle status is evolving much faster than his music ever has. James has worn a permanent groove into his musical path, which is characterized by warm homespun vocals, gently picked acoustic guitar and unobtrusive musical backing. He’s seen fire and he’s seen rain, but you won't see much of that stuff here. Unless, of course, you're talking abut a fireplace fire, or a welcome summer shower.
As with any new James Taylor release, it’s the exceptions to the rule you notice first, such as the light soul with the blues-y guitar of “Raised Up Family,” which highlights Taylor’s love of vintage soul. But how he came to quote the “Gilligan’s Island” theme in it, we’ll probably never know. Our folk man is also surrounded by stings on three tracks, which include “Mean Old Man,” “My Traveling Star” and “Caroline I See You.” Taylor’s family sing-along voice is also perfectly suited for the jazz-lite of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” which closes the collection. Yep, there’s even a Christmas ditty here.
In many places, harmony vocals take center stage. They're effectively put to use on “Baby Buffalo,” and are especially prominent on “Belfast To Boston.” The later is a rare political commentary from Taylor, in which he bemoans the endless Irish conflict. He sings: “Who will bend this ancient hatred/Will the killing to an end.”
Producer Russ Titelman is most successful in his role for what he doesn’t do, which is get in the way. He’s gathered together a group of mostly seasoned studio veterans who fall right into step with Taylor’s musical inclinations.
It’s easy to take an old faithful like James Taylor for granted. He’s like one of those old jazz musicians, who -- when they finally find a comfortably melodic tone -- stick with it. Taylor found his own unique place a long time ago, which raises October Road to a predictably consistent comfort level.