Finally, after more than 12 years, James Taylor has released an album of original songs and it’s an instant James Taylor classic. It features 9 new James Taylor originals and one cover.
It’s unbelievable how great James’ voice still sounds. It's as warm, comfortable and soothing as it has ever been. The album excels in its simple arrangements and productions, with a focus on James’s voice and guitar playing. In this also lies the extraordinary strength of James’ legendary band members: they add so much to each of these individual songs without overshadowing them, leaving the basic songs intact.
The album opens with Today Today Today, a nice country song about starting things up (again) which prominently features Andrea Zonn on the fiddle. The next song on the album is the piano ballad You and I Again, which is one of the most touching love songs James ever wrote. I just love James’ phrasing of the lyrics in this song. Yo-Yo Ma adds a beautiful cello part to this song and Michael Landau adds some nice acoustic guitar licks. However, I believe an even simpler arrangement might have worked even better.
Angels of Fenway is probably my least favorite song on the album. I like its energy and its creative lyrics (combining a song about sports with a song about family bond) but somehow the song is just not really working for me. Maybe it’s because I’m not a sports fan at all and cannot really relate to the lyrics. Stretch of the Highway is the grooviest song on the album, with Steve Gadd driving the song on the drums and a nice horns section to give the song extra power. I like that on the album, James’ voice and guitar playing (love the guitar melody of this song) are more prominent than when the song was played live.
Montana is one of my favorites on the album. It strongly reminds me of Sweet Baby James (both are waltzes). This song proves that James can still write amazing lyrics. I just love lyrical finds like “Up in my cabin, over the valley. Under the blankets with you”. Larry Goldings’ piano and James’ guitar together are just astounding, which struck me even more when this song was played live for a TV show.
Watchin’ Over Me is a good recovery song that focusses strongly on the vocal parts by both James and Arnold, Kate, Andrea and David. SnowTime is one of my other favorites on the album. There’s just nothing I do not like about this song. James’ voice is so pure, the music with a focus on guitar and percussion is beautiful and the lyrics are incredible with some nice rhyming (“It was snowtime, it was showtime, it was no-time, to be lost in downtown Toronto”). Cannot wait to hear this song in concert!
The album’s title track Before This World is a folksy and somewhat mysterious song. Sting adds his voice to this song, which really nicely blends with James’ voice. Via a nice bridge that focusses on James’ guitar, the song merges into Jolly Springtime. This is a simple, happy song about spring that has been stuck in my head over the last few days.
Far Afghanistan is probably the song on the album that, subject-wise, is most out of James’ comfort zone. It tells a story about soldiers and their confusion when going to war for the first time. It not a protest song per se, but it is definitely critical of war. The march-like drum underlines the theme of the song and the haunting use of the Shehnai (Asian instrument) is fitting and really adds to the power of the song.
Wild Mountain Thyme is the perfect end to this great album. This classic Scottish/Irish folk tune has been one of my favorite James Taylor covers for a long time, so I’m happy James finally decided to record it. The song’s arrangement is very elegant and simple, focusing mostly on James’ guitar and the vocal arrangement that James and his singers have really perfected over the years.
All-in-all a great album that I'm sure you will enjoy! I cannot wait until James decides to make another album. He has said in recent interviews that he liked making the album so much that he definitely wants to get back to it at some point. Let's hope it will not take 12 years again.