It is surprising when an entertainer and an artist so long in the business suddenly delivers a round-house punch like that contained in this wonderful release by James Taylor, who after more than thirty years recording gives us this autumnal delight by way of "Hourglass". I have always been impressed by Taylor's obvious literate intelligence, playfulness as an artist, and willingness to go out on that limb that I am sure people have told him not to venture out on. But he carries it off very well here, with what is certainly the best new work by him in more than a decade. I say "new work" because his live album (overdue by about a decade or so) released in the mid 1990s was a wonderfully fresh and consummately professional rendering of two CDs worth of his favorites, and is one I play regularly.
This new work, on the other hand, stands out as a surprising reconfirmation of just how talented, resourceful, and timeless Taylor is, and how endless his appeal seems to be, as well. From the opening strains of the wry and ironic "Line Em Up" to the poignant and heartfelt "Enough To Be On Your Way" (a paean to his complex and troubled late brother Alex Taylor), Taylor leaves us in breathless enthrall at his ability to tell stories with a bittersweet twist, always saying more than what is strictly in the lyrics with his delivery, and employing that simply damned awesome acoustic guitar work that anyone familiar with his signature style can pick up as uniquely Taylor's at a virtual whisper from a hundred yards away.
This is a whirlwind trip through a lot of new territory, and while there are some new styles employed, fresh subjects broached, and variations in the lyrical path chosen to tread our way through, all of it is absolutely true to the comfortable authenticity Taylor always carries in his omni-present bag of professional tricks. Taylor has had a rough roller-coaster ride through life in the nineties, and he has mined these personal experiences like the artist we always known him to be, giving us precious nuggets of memorable lyrics wrapped, as always, in lovely melodies and superb arrangements. This one is pure Taylor magic. I highly recommend it.
1 Line 'Em Up
2 Enough to Be on Your Way
3 Little More Time With You
6 Jump up Behind Me
7 Another Day
8 Up Er Mei
9 Up from Your Life
10 Yellow and Rose
12 Walking My Baby Back Home
James Taylor Composer, Guitar, Guitar (Acoustic),
Michael Brecker EWI, Sax (Tenor)
Clifford Carter Keyboards
Valerie Carter Vocals
Shawn Colvin Vocals
Jill Dell'Abate Vocals
Dan Dugmore Guitar (Steel), Pedal Steel
Jimmy Johnson Bass
David Lasley Vocals
Yo-Yo Ma Cello
Bob Mann Guitar
Kate Markowitz Vocals
Branford Marsalis Sax (Soprano)
Arnold McCuller Vocals
Edgar Meyer Bass (Acoustic)
Mark O'Connor Fiddle
Stanley Silverman Cello Arrangement
Harmonica, Penny Whistle, Producer, Vocals
Ross Traut Guitar, Hi String Guitar
Carlos Vega Drums, Percussion
Stevie Wonder Harmonica
1997 Hourglass The Billboard 200 #9
Hard to believe that more than 35 years have passed since JT's debut. As one of the most talented of 70's performers, Taylor has consistently turned out material that superbly showcases his enormous gifts as a singer-songwriter. While some have knocked him for being too mellow, anyone who doubts that Taylor can rock should take a listen to his live rendition of "Steamroller Blues" (from his first Greatest Hits album). In fact, I once saw him bring a staid group of tuxedoed award-show attendees to its feet during a rousing live performance of "Steamroller."
Nevertheless, Taylor has always known himself, his forte and he never falters on delivering what he does best. A matchless ballad singer, Taylor often seems like a comforting force of nature: "Fire and Rain," for example, is as moving today as it was in 1972. On Hourglass, "Enough to be On Your Way" is a ballad that rises to the level of "Fire and Rain" while "Look up from your Life" is an impressive addendum to "You've Got a Friend." "Line 'em Up" pokes fun at political hypocrisy during the winding-down stretch of Vietnam; the song is a gentle but nonetheless terse comment from a baby boomer who reminds us of the turbulence of that era, though it could apply to today's scene. Taylor's tenderness, his wry sense of humor, patience and excellent musicianship are all on display here. "Hourglass" is definitely a keeper--an indisputable testament to James Taylor's staying power!
James has given us the best album of his career in Hourglass. It is full of emotion, joy and pain. It is classic James Taylor yet at the same time he departs somewhat from his earlier musicals concepts in favor of a wider range of melodies. One of the cornerstones of his music that I have always loved are his short tender ballads. On Hourglass, he moves us through so many diverse musical styles and takes you right into his emotional and, at times, heavy mental space. Expressing loss and love, his deep concern for the environment, along with his spirituality and daily wonderings; it's all there on Hourglass. Unlike many other songwriters, James has broken rank with his previous style with grace and ease. No matter how much or little of his career you have followed, Hourglass is a must buy.
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