Sunday 20 January 2019

How sweet it is to have James Taylor in town again

It's definitely not an understatement to say it can be very easy to be put off an act purely on account of the people who actually like said act.

For example, it took me quite a while to come around to just how good the first three Jimi Hendrix albums were due to being exposed at an impressionable age to Dublin pub bands who simply threw loads of notes over the top of sludgy blues riffs without ever figuring out that Hendrix was, in fact, a true sonic innovator and a fine songwriter with a beautiful singing voice.

Equally, in my late teens I developed an aversion to the work of James Taylor. This was mainly down to attending parties where, inevitably, some drippy hippy with lank hair would produce a nylon-stringed guitar and commandeer the kitchen. The wretched songs of Bob Dylan were a given in such situations, but there was always a particularly intimidating "Sssh" to be heard whenever the performer in question launched into Fire and Rain. God, I hated that song for so many years.

Eventually, of course, we all come to our senses, and it's quite obvious that the song is a classic example of confessional writing from the early 70s, a period when that style was at its zenith. Indeed, along with Carole King's Tapestry, James Taylor's second album, Sweet Baby James, is one of the totemic releases of that genre.

Stardust Having gone through heroin addiction and a mental breakdown, Taylor wound up on the Apple label in 1969 at Paul McCartney's recommendation, but not even the Beatles' sprinkling of stardust could get his career off the ground at that stage. A year later and the world was at his feet, with songs like Sweet Baby James, Carolina in My Mind and a cover of Carole King's You've Got a Friend earning him a permanent place in bedsit record collections.

Adopting country influences as his career progressed, Taylor's laid-back attitude could at times be infuriating, never more so than on the truly insipid cover of Holland-Dozier-Holland's How Sweet It Is from 1975, a soft-rock shuffle that reduced a great soul-pop song to mush and may well have inspired punk all by itself.

Recent years have seen some marvellous live shows, not least one at LA's Troubadour when he and King swapped songs backed by a superb band in what was a genuinely warm and moving concert.

James Taylor plays the 3Arena on Tuesday

>>> George Byrne

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