In the 21st century, an in an era of changing attitudes toward music creation, promotion, and distribution, singer and songwriter James Taylor has worked hard to stay in the public eye with bookstore and coffeehouse signing appearances, long tours in unlikely venues, and records of new material and cover versions of well-known tunes from all over ...
In the 21st century, an in an era of changing attitudes toward music creation, promotion, and distribution, singer and songwriter James Taylor has worked hard to stay in the public eye with bookstore and coffeehouse signing appearances, long tours in unlikely venues, and records of new material and cover versions of well-known tunes from all over the American music spectrum. Other Covers is a mid-length set of seven more cover tunes that follows his last full set of them by ten months. Taylor is backed by an all-star band that includes drummer Steve Gadd, bassist Jimmy Johnson, pianist and organist Larry Goldings, brass ace Walt Fowler, reedman Luis Marini, Jr., electric guitarist Michael Landau, and fiddle player and backing vocalist Andrea Zonn (among others). These seven songs are highly polished in terms of production values: for instance, Chuck Berry's "Memphis Tennessee," with horns, feels more like something that came of Taylor's JT album than a seminal rock & roll tune. Likewise, Tom Waits' "Shiver Me Timbers" is almost recognizable as the author's and feels more like one of Taylor's own ballads. The pathos has been sanded off and in its place is a warm, glossy waltz that includes both country and Celtic inferences -- though it needs to be mentioned that Zonn's performance on the fiddle is exquisite and adds another depth level of emotion. Whatever possessed Taylor to attempt Wilson Pickett's mighty "In the Midnight Hour" is open to speculation, but he does a formidable job rising to meet the killer horn chart and the track also features some stinging, dynamic electric guitar work by Landau. It's hardly wild, but it works extremely well. Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood" doesn't fare as well and feels -- no pun intended -- very stiff and stilted with the chorus forced and corny. That said, the opening cut, a version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," is actually sublime; Taylor injects a new and wildly different kind of life into the tune, lending his best crooner's coo and his deep love of gospel to the lyric. And speaking of gospel, Taylor and his backing chorus do a ferocious job on the traditional "Wasn't That a Mighty Storm." The interpretation is radical: it features a stormy electric guitar, squeezebox, big drums, and brass, but the tune's gospel intent is conveyed with a great, prophetic bluesy growl. Ultimately, Other Covers is for the faithful, the tried and true Taylor fan who appreciates his smooth quirkiness and near flawless tenor voice. For the rest of us this is a curiosity at most, but a (mostly) pleasant one nonetheless. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi