THUNDER BAY – ENTERTAINMENT – James Taylor sang the anthem at the NHL’s winter Classic when we went to Boston in 2010. Where thousands of pre-game hockey fans mingled outside Fenway Park hearing his signature baritone voice while he practiced chords on his guitar on a wintry perch high up on the grandstand behind Fenway’s home plate.
The snowy cobblestone lanes below him brought to mind Taylor’s song from winters long before.
“Now, the first of December was covered in snow…
And so was that turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston.
Though the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting.”
However it has been 12 years since James Taylor produced an album of new material. Fresh songs reflecting what’s been on his mind as a singer/composer and guitar picking band member. One who first took up the cello as a youngster as his mother studied and played music. That cello idea is moulded into his new vistas in song.
But Taylor’s long awaited release, entitled Beyond This World, just this past week certainly takes fans to different places. Unique chapters in Taylor’s travels, and time in locations, have spotlighted pivotal titles in this repertoire. As he has said, “I’ve been consumed with all the elements in writing, re-writing, which I really love.”
Not to mention assembling backups on drums, choir, and other instruments, with the ultimate maestro of the cello Yo-yo Ma coming through so serenely on several songs. As well there’s the added coupling of a voice with a guest appearance by Sting.
In order to get away to work at his new songs Taylor would shuffle off to a friend’s place in Rhode Island. There, he took up a composer’s kind of garret existence unhindered in his artistic concentration, time development in scoring original pieces.
Curious how that sort-of-away-from-a-theme-and-site complies with its own distinctive results. One realizes Shakespeare never got to Denmark though his tragic Hamlet the Dane is woven of that realm and kingdom. While W.B. Yeats wrote about his boyhood summers at Ireland’s Lake of Innisfree while living in France.
And if there’s a clue to James Taylor’s longevity in music it’s inherent in the pictures on the CD cover. He’s shown with his favourite shamrock green truck in the countryside where he lives in Massachusetts. It’s a 1950 Ford delivery truck. The kind recalling home deliveries. When those trucks had become bread wagons. Driven on neighbourhood lanes as a bread man–occasionally whistling or singing–arrived to serve those on his route.
One of the songs that received its incubation and hatching in Rhode Island is something Taylor had penned notes, bits of history on snippets of papers from 2004. The year the Boston Red Sox finally won a World Series in our time after 86 years of perennially falling face down in the dust as the New York Yankees monopolized one Championship following another.
Taylor puts a focus on his grandmother who was born in 1918 when the Red Sox had won their last title. His ballad as an ode to Boston’s breathtaking triumph as they were down 3 games to none, in a best of seven series.
They became miracle winners coming back with four straight wins. That had never happened before. Taylor crystallizes what transpired in his narrative tune: Angels of Fenway. He captures Red Sox losses. Their struggles, lost moments, and regular shortcomings through decades. However, in 2004 Taylor was with his grandmother in her hospital bed setting where, “She had a smile on her face…though…didn’t hear the last words she said.”
Billboard charts, and their musical predictions, are suggesting Taylor’s Angels will likely hit the top ten as this season of baseball goes on, and on, in North American cities from coast to coast. Come to think of it Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder once sang his own ode to his hometown Cubbies of Chicago. It became a theme song at Wrigley Field over the years. Fans very enthusiastically singing its chorus as we watched the Cubs triumphant over Pittsburgh in a brilliant game of offence this May.
Though it likely won’t have the impact of the Beatles Long And Winding Road Collection from the sixties, Taylor’s fine baritone, well-preserved cadence, and pitch, is a redeeming purchase in the way he handles these new tunes.
A well-known New England story adds an insight to James Taylor’s legendary lifelong endurance in music. For it was one who sang a New York song about doing things his way that became a point in time that has held up, Tony Bennett once asked Taylor if he any voice exercises to maintain one’s clarity in singing. Actually no. Taylor hadn’t thought of that. Bennett soon, became a Samaritan in song, while advising Taylor on voice techniques to practice each week. The history of that meeting is abundant in Taylor’s manifold efforts.
What Before The World also encompasses are songs and tunes as Shakespeare wrote about the artist, in Hamlet, carrying us on his shoulders. Taylor has composed Snowtime in focusing on a winter in Toronto. In another sing, he strums a compulsive driving song about Chicago. “Chi-town…my town…and I want to thank the man.” Those who endured wicked winters and insufferable summers to build its truly cosmopolitan attractions.
Taylor realizes his adaptations of traditional British Isles folk songs will touch a sensitive heartbeat with many. His rendition of Robbie Burns’ Auld Lang Syne recaptures an 18th century beauty. How naturally that forecasts our introduction to a brand New Year, as the last page of December’s calendar is turned. And mankind everywhere, rises as “a cup of kindness” to one another. Wherein our spirits rise with hope and strength in all life’s bonds merit within our souls.
On this Album it’s the Scots McPeake’s 1850’s Wild Mountain Thyme traditional melody that Taylor delivers in a slower, yet cheerful, gig. He holds and carries Gaelic notes, intended to rhyme, like musical bubbles before landing so airily–softly–down. Acutely introducing it with
It’s optimistic: “summertime is coming…”
Besides, in a way, echoing something akin to all the sixties protest songs both he–and we, as College students waded through–Taylor has a song referring to America’s Imperialism that has sent its armed forces into a satellite nation as far away as Afghanistan. In his Far (away) Afghanistan there is a on obvious political questioning. He sights soldiers taken from the heartland, in a state like Indiana, who take their own faith in God on their expeditions into foreign territories where they confront an opponent who must also address Afghanistan religious passions with their faith and teachings in their own holy scriptures.
It is quite unlikely Taylor’s Before This World will become what the Beatles 1969 Long And Winding Road album became. A masterpiece of the British Invasion in Rock. However anyone spending moments outdoors this summer might want to spin a few of Taylor’s tunes to tend a garden patch. Enjoy Taylor’s lyrics on a sunny shoreline with summer’s waves following a rhythm in Nature. Or, share these songs while listening with others driving on a long-distance summer vacation.
Perhaps even young guitar students will cherish emulating some of James Taylor’s new acoustic strumming. As thousands have over decades practicing their versions of Taylor’s
You’ve Got A Friend. Throughout our seasons. Winter. Spring. Summer. And Fall.
Taylor’s first song is entitled Today…Today. It begins as Taylor, chords his guitar, singing, “we are on our way…on our way.”