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(Concert Review) James Taylor rings true

Lenox, Mass.
July 5, 2005

Seeing James Taylor at Tanglewood has almost become a cliche, but like all cliches, that's because of how strongly he rings true.

Taylor rang true on Tuesday night, the second night (and soggier) of a two-night stand at Tanglewood. As has been noted in recent years, Taylor is in the best vocal form of his career -- his voice rings out with unusual clarity, and he has grown into the soul-crooner shoes that he has seemingly wanted to wear ever since recording Sam Cooke's "Handyman" back in 1977.

This year's concert was different from previous ones in that Taylor has shaken up his set list and the pacing of the show quite a bit. He dispensed with "Your Smiling Face," one of his most hard-rocking hits, early on -- perhaps not the best strategy -- and added an extended folk music segment to his program.

Another change, and this one was welcome, was that Taylor has moved "Sweet Baby James" from its traditional place as the final song of the final encore into the body of the concert itself. The song, and its emotional impact, gained from the change, and of course the requisite cheers greeted his mention of "the Turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston."

Taylor also turned the focus of the program more frequently to his terrific band, giving each member at least one moment in the spotlight. Standouts in his band of all stars included famed reedman Lou Marini, drummer Steve Gadd, jazz keyboardist Larry Goldings, longtime vocalists Kate Markowitz and Arnold McCullers, and guitarist Michael Landau, whose past credits include everyone from Joni Mitchell to Chicago to Julio Iglesias to Neil Diamond to, most memorably, Warren Zevon.

Taylor's band these days is a lot slicker and more polished than the old days of Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel, and Don Grolnick, but it still has great impact.

I was at the concert at Tanglewood on Monday, July 4th. If the Tuesday show was anything like the Monday show, he must have been fantasic!

Mary Ragone

"Handyman" was written by Otis Blackwell (All Shook Up, Great Balls of Fire, Return to Sender etc. etc.), not Sam Cooke. Both Jimmy Jones and Del Shannon had the big hits with it.

I saw the Taylor concert at the Greek in Berkeley CA last night. I enjoyed it but it felt a bit tired compared to shows I attended years ago. No question it's the studio A-list band, but a saccharine and not particularly inspired performance. Maybe missing Grolnick's direction...or maybe just an off night...but an off night for Taylor and these guys is still far from a bust and having all that great material to draw from doesn't hurt either.

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