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| James Taylor – Before This World
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James Taylor – Before This World

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The Details

15th June 2015

Concord

'Before This World' is Taylor's seventeenth studio album.

When I think of James Taylor I think of large white wood clad houses, with pretty rose gardens, green lawns and perfect picket fences. I think of blue skies, open roads and stars and stripes. I think of my Dad, and all of the kids who’s dads have James Taylor cd’s in their cars – some I guess grow up to be fans, like me and others file Taylor away as ‘Dad rock’ and simply forget about him until father’s day rolls around again or ‘You’ve Got A Friend’, a Carole King cover, plays on the radio. To me James Taylor is nostalgia, so a new record comes with high expectations for the next ‘Fire And Rain’ or ‘Carolina In My Mind’ to be contained within.


‘Before This World’ is Taylor’s first album in over 10 years. In the time that has passed Taylor released an album of covers, and returned to collaboration with old friend and a personal favourite of mine Carole King on ‘Live At The Troubadour’ recorded in 2010.

‘Today Today Today’ opens the album. My view of Taylor is somewhat distorted, with a career spanning six decades, fraught with hard drug addiction, depression, relationship difficulties and the loss of friends through suicide and overdose. A far cry from the New England cookie cutter image I hold. ‘Today Today Today’ is a song about survival, finally conquering your demons and moving on. A fitting first single.

Somehow I haven’t died / And I feel the same inside / As when I caught this ride / When first I sold my pride.


‘You And I Again’ is next. A ballad about long lasting love. Taylor and his wife Kim discuss the song in the video at the bottom of this page. If you’re interested, there’s quite a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ footage for this album over at jamestaylor.com – when you’ve had 13 years to write an album ‘behind the scenes’ material must be plentiful.

I’m not much of a sports fan, outside of Irish Rugby so the tribute to the Boston Red Sox on ‘Angels Of Fenway’ is lost on me. Is it normal for American’s to be this emotional about sports? I’m not a fan of the harmonies, soundbites and the talk singing child – it all just seems far too cheesy for me.

‘Stretch Of The Highway’ with it’s Gospel-esque backing vocals, saxophone and road trip theme has to be my favourite song on the album even if it is rather sedate, I think sedate is a theme. ‘Montana’ is a return to the familiar, the most James Taylor song on ‘Before This World’.

A bit of life! ‘Watchin’ Over Me’ shocks me out of my near meditative listening trance with a few beats of a drum, unfortunately despite the jaunty pace the life of the song doesn’t last for too long. A fiddle around halfway through helps to pick the song back up, and the coming verses are a little more captivating – I have a feeling that with a little more effort this song could have been great. A suggestion of an organ and attempts at hand claps could have been amped up to create something special.

Another mere suggestion of an organ on ‘SnowTime’. One more cheesy track with a Spanish feel and strange lyrics including an annoying reference to ‘La Bamba’. Very fitting of the ‘Adult Contemporary’ genre classification the album has received. There are some lovely orchestral moments but not enough to redeem the track.

Featuring Sting on backing vocals, ‘Before This World / Jolly Springtime’ can be quite pleasant at times, the cello provided by Yo-Yo Ma is beautiful and when the song turns into ‘Jolly Springtime’ I enjoy it much more, a folksy chant of a song with hints at tribal drums.

‘Far Afghanistan’ is an uncomfortable track for me. The rolling military drums, a narrative dealing with a post 9/11 generation preparing to take up arms, a ‘we are all the same inside’ message. It’s not so much the message or context of the song that bothers me, it’s the lyrics – they feel haphazard, rushed, lazy. Taylor admits the work to be a piece of fiction, whilst the rest of the album is autobiographical as his work tend to be. I feel that maybe such a song shouldn’t be written outside of your experience. Perhaps to me, James Taylor has never been about lyrical profundity, that’s not to say he hasn’t written some lyrically brilliant music. Take ‘Something In The Way She Moves’ as an example.

It isn’t what she’s got to say / But how she thinks and where she’s been / To me the words are nice, the way they sound / I like to hear them best that way / It doesn’t much matter what they mean / She says them mostly just to calm me down.

Even so, I’ve always thought of Taylor as guitar tones, easy baritone vocals, a feeling of calm and reciprocity between the musician and listener.

The final song on the album is ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ a traditional Scottish folk song written by a Belfast songwriter of Scottish extraction, Francis McPeake. Taylor perhaps chose this song due to his Scottish heritage. A nice song, well performed with charming backing vocals provided by Kim Taylor.

I’m not sure if I’ll return to ‘Before This World’ anytime soon. With such a fantastic back catalogue, James Taylor will always remain a favourite of mine – this may just be the album I don’t think about playing.