James Taylor: Back to his roots

Thursday, December 6, 2007
Musician James Taylor played his guitar at the NBC Studios in Burbank, Calif. James Taylor's new CD/DVD set "One Man Band" is a musical self-portrait that takes him back to the start of his career in the late 1960s. (Damian Dovarganes ~ Associated Press)

NEW YORK -- James Taylor's new CD/DVD set "One Man Band" is a musical self-portrait that takes him back to the start of his career in the late '60s when he could travel light with just his songs, guitar and a suitcase, and up through the present when he is enjoying a rare second chance at getting his life right.

Over the years, Taylor had gotten accustomed to performing in bigger venues, often with large bands or even symphony orchestras. But on this live recording of his July concerts in the restored Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Mass., Taylor begins his performance alone on acoustic guitar and later is accompanied by jazz keyboard player Larry Goldings, and on two songs by a custom-made, Rube Goldberg-like drum machine.

Taylor's recently concluded tour marked the first time since the late '70s that he had gone out on a stripped-down solo tour.

"It's how I started performing, and I think it's important every once in a while to get back to it," Taylor said. "I think in a way this album is a James Taylor primer because it goes back to the foundations of how the songs were written. ... The arrangements are distilled down to the very essence. ... It spans the whole stretch of the three or four decades I've been doing this, but there are a lot of those early guitar-and-voice songs, 'Fire and Rain,' 'Sweet Baby James,' that were written before I had any hope of playing with a band."

But on the "One Man Band" tour, Taylor did something he had never done before by offering a multimedia presentation that included old photographs, family home movies and even a videotape of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus singing backup on two songs.

As he introduces songs, Taylor reveals another side of his personality fans may be less familiar with.

"There's somewhat a perception of me as being sort of the sensitive, suffering songwriter," said Taylor. "The success of songs like 'Fire and Rain' gave people an idea of me that's a lot more serious than is appropriate. I actually enjoy being on stage. ... I guess the news here is just that I'm a slightly more upbeat person than my public persona has been."

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