"These songs come from my life," says James Taylor. "My life is full -- full of family and friends and work. The reason that I talk about these songs as if they're someone else's is that I don't feel as though I wrote them, I feel as though I heard them. I waited and listened and I heard them. I feel strong about this batch of songs; they were worth waiting for." Taylor is talking about October Road, his first new studio album since 1997's Hourglass, which won that year's Grammy for "Best Pop Vocal Album."
October Road reunites Taylor with producer Russ Titelman, who first worked with the artist on Gorilla (1975) and In the Pocket (1976). Described by Taylor as "a very guitar-centric album," most of the arrangements on October Road are centered on his vocals, guitar, and his rhythm section of Jimmy Johnson (bass) and Steve Gadd (drums). Among the guest artists are guitar legend Ry Cooder and saxophonist Michael Brecker (on the album's title track).
Songs on October Road include: "September Grass," "October Road," "On the 4th of July" (the first single from October Road, "On the 4th of July" was streamed by more than 352,000 fans online during its exclusive premiere on AOL Music's "First Listen"), "Whenever You're Ready," "Belfast to Boston," "Mean Old Man," "My Traveling Star," "Raised Up Family," "Carry Me On My Way," "Caroline I See You," "Baby Buffalo," and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" (a newly-recorded version of the seasonal classic is available for the first time on a commercial release on October Road).
With the exception of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," which was written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin for the 1944 film "Meet Me In St. Louis" and "September Grass," which was written by songwriter John I. Sheldon, all of the album's tracks were written by James Taylor.
When James Taylor picked up his Best Male Pop Vocal Performance trophy at the 44th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony in February (for "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," a track from Michael Brecker's Nearness Of You collection), it was the latest in a string of Grammy wins for the artist going back three decades. Taylor earned his first Grammy (Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male) in 1971 for his recording of Carole King's "You've Got A Friend." After moving to Columbia Records in 1976, Taylor claimed his second Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male Grammy in 1977 for his wry interpretation of Jimmy Jones' "Handy Man." JT, his Columbia Records debut, has since gone on to hit triple platinum. In 1998, his platinum Hourglass album snared Grammys for both the "Best Pop Vocal Album" and "Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical". His contribution to In Harmony, a Sesame Street album, helped that album win a "Best Recording For Children" Grammy at the 1980 ceremony.
What James Taylor means to us is hard to put into mere words. How do you do justice to all he has given to us and all that we have been through together? His voice, words and music have carried us from the turbulent times of the Vietnam War, when he first emerged, through one generation and well into another. James has often cited the disparate but complementary influences of Sam Cooke, Stephen Foster, Aaron Copland, John Hurt and George Jones. Like them, he is the architect of a style of American music all his own -- one that lifts the spirit, soothes the soul and speaks the truth. And like most magicians, he makes what he does seem effortless. Part of the brilliance of James' work lies in the mere simplicity, familiarity and ease it communicates amidst its erudite musicality and lyrical splendor. His songs mirror our own life and times, offering a consistency that has never let us down, through his and our own trials and tribulations.
James Taylor not only set the precedent for solo singer/songwriter/instrumentalists achieving success as recording and touring artists, he made it a cool and desirable role -- one to which millions of earnest singer/songwriters have since aspired. His warm and inviting tenor instinctively seems to attract the inflections and embellishments that grace his unforgettable melodies. His distinctive voice is among the most recognized and beloved in popular music. Another facet of his prodigious talent is his guitar playing, which significantly raised the standard for singer/songwriters accompanying themselves with six strings.
But above and beyond all else, there are the songs: "Fire and Rain," "Country Road," "Something In The Way She Moves," "Mexico," "Shower the People," "Your Smiling Face," "Carolina In My Mind," "Sweet Baby James," "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," "You Can Close Your Eyes," "Walking Man," "Never Die Young," "Shed a Little Light," "Copperline." His songs reflect his passion for music and a dedication to the constant evolution of his craft; and they have had a profound influence on both songwriters and music lovers of all generations and from all walks of life. Today it is no surprise to see children discovering his songs through their parent's record collections and immediately falling in love with the sound of his voice.
James started writing music in the mid 1960's as a student at a New England boarding school, far removed from his family and friends in the Piedmont Hills of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. After early episodes of depression and restlessness, James decided to pursue his own path as a songwriter and musician, moving to New York City joining a band. Subsequently moving to London to further his career, James was introduced to Paul McCartney by his soon to be producer/manager, Peter Asher, and signed to the Beatles' Apple record label. Although Taylor's 1968 self-titled debut was critically well received, offering the future classics "Carolina In My Mind" and "Something In The Way She Moves," Apple records suffered from poor financial management and soon went bankrupt.
Undeterred, James packed up his notebook and guitar and headed home back across the Atlantic. He was quickly picked up by Warner Brothers Records, for whom he recorded six albums. His first release in 1970, Sweet Baby James, was his introduction to the music world at large, and it proved to be a truly monumental recording, containing the title track "Sweet Baby James," "Country Road" and his most enduring hit, the sadly cathartic "Fire and Rain." He followed up on his debut with Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon in 1971, on which he demonstrated his agility in moving between melancholic mementos ("Soldiers," "Hey Mister, That's Me Up On The Jukebox"), pleasant lullabies ("Isn't It Nice To Be Home Again"), and euphoric anthems concerning salvation and freedom ("Let Me Ride," "Love Has Brought Me Around"). Mud Slide Slim was widely considered both an artistic and commercial success, since it also included the major hit "You've Got a Friend," written by good friend Carole King. On the next four albums, One Man Dog (1972), Walking Man (1974), Gorilla (1975), and In The Pocket (1976), James explored new production aesthetics, using some very well-known singers and studio musicians including Carole King, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Art Garfunkel, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Michael Brecker and David Sanborn to provide lush textures to his compositions which were anchored by his core band of Leland Sklar (bass), Russell Kunkel (drums), and Kortchmar (guitar). These classic recording sessions yielded the songs "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," "Walking Man," "Mexico," "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)," "Shower The People," and "Everybody Has The Blues." In 1976, James released his Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, one of the biggest selling catalog titles of all time, for which he won a Diamond award for ten million plus copies in worldwide sales. In 1977 James delivered JT, a masterpiece of diversity that featured his signature literate folk sensibility on songs like the insightful "Secret O' Life" and "If I Keep My Heart Out Of Sight," juxtaposed with the syncopated funk rhythms of "Traffic Jam" and "Honey Don't Leave L.A.," and the soul influenced stylings of "Handyman" and "Your Smiling Face." The 1980's saw James' career continue on its brilliant trajectory as he produced one stellar album after another, adding the songs "Millworker," "That Lonesome Road," "Summer's Here," "Hard Times," "That's Why I'm Here," "Only One," "Sun On The Moon," "Never Die Young" and "First of May" to his already deep, varied and cherished library of songs. James branched out in the 1990's, recording only two studio albums - New Moon Shine (1991) and Hourglass (1997), preferring to trade the studio for the road. James maintained an intensive international touring schedule during which he recorded many of the live performances, resulting in an extremely popular double-disc set that captured the energy, lyrical spontaneity and spirited audience interaction common in his concerts (Live, 1993). James also made guest appearances singing and playing guitar on two Americana records featuring the all-star chamber ensemble of Mark O'Connor, Edgar Meyer, and Yo-Yo Ma (Liberty, 1997; Appalachian Journey, 2000). Lately, the man known for being a consummate wanderer has concentrated on spending more time at home with his wife Caroline and their one year-old twins, Henry and Rufus. Over the course of his career, James Taylor has earned 40 gold, platinum, and multi-platinum awards for a timeless catalog running from 1970's Sweet Baby James to 1997's Hourglass to 1998's platinum-selling Live At The Beacon Theatre DVD/VHS release. Taylor's first Greatest Hits album earned him the RIAA's elite Diamond Award, given for sales in excess of 10 million units in the United States. For his extraordinary achievements, James Taylor was honored with the 1998 Century Award, Billboard magazine's highest accolade, bestowed for distinguished creative achievement. The year 2000 saw Taylor's induction into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the prestigious Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
James Taylor's music embodies the process of songwriting in its most fundamental art. He transforms introspective meditations into emotionally revealing lyrics, melodies, and harmonies that comfort and reassure the listener with the idea that these sometimes painful, sometimes celebratory moments in life are shared by us all.
In 1971, Taylor was featured on the cover of Time magazine, who heralded him as the harbinger of "the singer/songwriter era." In 2002, with October Road, the quintessential singer-songwriter is helping that era crossover into the 21st century.