James Taylor – Before This World – Concord Records

June 16, 2015 – I’ve often wondered if James Taylor was the type of guy to ask for directions? He does seem shy with a quiet humbleness about his nature but then again how many people can invite 20 thousand friends to sing along with them night after night? Maybe he’d use it as an excuse to hear a new story?

Being a child of the seventies I rode shotgun with his take on things from sunshine to illness all the while delivered with that warm timbre in his voice. Like a good comedian any great singer-songwriter has to look at the center of the pie from a different and/or refreshing angle. Give someone an ah-hah moment that sticks and you have them for life. Fans read lyrics sheets because of singers like this. Some guys get wise too late but Taylor was obviously taking notes at an early age. Thinking too much sometimes has it’s fine print. He had his share of emotion and substance problems but he got up. He never quit and here he is the first album of originals in 13 years.

Our rock stars are getting older. Some are dying and others don’t have that much to say. Nostalgic acts can fill arenas playing the same 10-15 hits but Taylor has always done more than top40 in concert. On the Today show yesterday he played the single from ‘Before This World’ the appropriately titled and very charming ‘Today, Today, Today,’ his 1977 hit ‘Your Smiling Face’ and ‘Shed a Little Light’ from 1991’s ‘New Moon Shine.’ The latter was no big hit but it’s a religious experience for anyone who hears it. Look it up – trust me! He will play tunes from the new album on his next tour that starts next month.

Taylor says his life is full now and he sequestered himself to get back to the well to write ‘Before This World.’

The quiet ‘You and I Again’ is about those moments we have with each other but specifically it’s for his wife Kim who is also a singer.

There’s even a baseball tune on the CD. ‘Angels of Fenway’ revisits the 86 year drought for Boston Red Sox. This love letter highlights Taylor’s powerhouse backup singers of Kate Markowitz, David Lasley, Arnold McCuller and the newest member of this delicious choir Andrea_Zonn who replaced Valerie Carter who has been dealing with person issues. It’s almost expected now that those layered voice should blanket ever JT tune.

‘Montana’ starts off sounding a bit like ‘Sweet Baby James’ but quickly finds it’s own voice with Taylor

longing for the uncomplicated things, what we don’t have but could accomplish with heavy choices. The grass is always greener perhaps. Again the Taylor songbirds add such a beautiful dimension to this piece. It’s no wonder that his singers are never hidden on stage. There right there beside him.

The Latin flavored ‘SnowTime’ is a cross between his 1975 hit ‘Mexico’ and another non-hit concert favorite ‘Only a Dream in Rio.’ It’s actually about a trip to Toronto, Canada and one of the high points on the project.

‘Before This World / Jolly Springtime’ features Sting and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. It’s important to note that every Taylor project has had a healthy helping of sing-along melodies and these two fit the bill perfectly.

Famous drummer Steve Gadd is all over this CD and will be touring with Taylor next month. His subtle perfection on drums just stands as another reason to buy it.

Interestingly Taylor’s voice is as crystal clear today as it was on his first album on the Beatles Apple records in 1968. He’s taken care of the pipes.

One things for sure about ‘Before this World” Taylor still knows how to string a good hook together and after all these years he still has something to say at 67. – by John Beaudin