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Digital Subscriptions > Long Live Vinyl > August 2019 > James Taylor

James Taylor

Taylor epitomised the gentle, introspective singer/songwriter movement of the early 70s, but seems to have disappeared under the radar of serious critical acclaim. John Earls argues his case





JAMES (1970)



HORIZON (1971)

ONE MAN DOG (1972)


GORILLA (1975)


He’s a strange presence in the music industry, is James Taylor. He released some of the best music of the 70s, but he’s rarely mentioned in the pantheon of great singer-songwriters alongside peers such as Neil Young or Paul Simon. True, Taylor hasn’t made a great album since Hourglass in 1997. But his most recent album, Before This World, was a surprise US No. 1 in 2015, and there’s a sense that, with the right push, Taylor could easily have an overdue re-evaluation of his career to ease him back into the spotlight. A Sunday afternoon legend slot at Glastonbury, anyone?

Taylor’s reassessment would be aided by Rhino’s straightforward boxset of the six albums the made for Warner, a document that features the majority of his most famous songs. It doesn’t contain Taylor’s self-titled 1968 debut album on Apple, so there’s no Carolina In My Mind. But you do get How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), Walking Man, Fire And Rain and of course Taylor’s timeless take on Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend. Anyone who thinks Taylor was perhaps only a fitfully inspired singer, maybe ‘only’ a singles artist even at his height, needs to investigate One Man Dog, which doesn’t waste a note despite featuring 18 songs across its 38 minutes (true, the sleeve of Taylor in a canoe with a dog is a total horror show).

Sweet Baby James is the album generally regarded as the go-to, and it’s certainly the archetype of Taylor’s unfussy poignancy. When you’re capable of expressing such hard-won optimism with the elegant simplicity Taylor imbues in Sunny Skies, it’s perhaps easier to fathom why Taylor can be overlooked. How does the make music sound so effortless, damn it? It’s a big mistake, because it’s far harder to be as beautifully sparse as Taylor is over most of these six albums than it is to wig out and pretend anything goes, like Taylor’s prog-rock contemporaries.

It’s true that there are missteps along the way. Walking Man was a relative flop and, while Hello Old Friend should join its title track as a classic-in-retrospect, they’re surrounded by a few songs where Taylor really is casually phoning it in, seemingly overworked so that a dashed-off cover of Chuck Berry’s Promised Land really should have been saved for a B-side at best.

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About Long Live Vinyl

Issue 29 of Long Live Vinyl is now on sale! Unknown Treasures! This issue's bumper cover story is a definitive list of 150 albums you need to discover. We've recruited 30 of the most well-known, passionate record collectors in the country to bring you their list of the hidden gems missing from your collection. From record shop owners to label bosses, bands and festival organisers, your collection needs their recommendations. Elsewhere, we speak to Ride about the second album of their incredible comeback, This Is Not A Safe Place, find out why Hot Chip's A Bath Full Of Ecstasy is already one of the most positive records of 2019 and meet a true modern folk hero, Jake Xerxes Fussell. If that's not enough to whet your appetite, we speak to some of the key figures behind Prince's new Originals collection, salute a pair of female punk pioneers, celebrate the 30th anniversary of New Order's Technique and tell the story of Fierce Panda, the indie label that discovered Coldplay. With the most comprehensive range of new album, reissue, turntable and hi-fi reviews anywhere on the newsstand, Long Live Vinyl is THE magazine for vinyl lovers.