Minor 7th has a review for James Taylor’s new album Covers in their November/December 2008 issue. The review is available on their website until the next issue comes out, so here it is in its entirety for posterity.
James Taylor… “Covers.” For diehard fans, I could end the review now. Despite Taylor’s great catalog of originals, get past “Fire and Rain” and “Sweet Baby James,” and it’s the covers folks know (“Up on the Roof,” “Everyday”). Like recent releases by other icons, “Covers” — which opened at #4 on the Billboard chart — is on Hear Music, “the sound of Starbucks.” If that brings out your inner cynic, then it’s going to take a lot to win you over. So let’s see what you get. A mix of discoveries and the familiar. That sweet legato tenor. A little blue-eyed soul. Some distinctive acoustic picking. Yes, Taylor plumbs the territory again. He even re-covers Buddy Holly (“Not Fade Away”) and the Drifters (“On Broadway”). Taylor recorded live, sometimes with a dozen players, mostly his precision-tooled touring band. So you get a lot more horn and enough energy, at times, to power a small city. “Covers” scores well on revelations. “It’s Growing,” a Smokey Robinson/Pete Moore composition — a less replayed Temptations hit-opens with Taylor’s acoustic standing in for the original’s piano. The horn section replaces the strings. Michael Landau’s electric preserves the smooth soul. Grab a significant other and dance. “Wichita Lineman” strips out Glen Campbell’s over-production and uncovers a workingman seeing life through the filter of his job. On “Road Runner,” Taylor unleashes his little known harmonica skills. “Hound Dog,” faithful to Lieber/Stoller, is pure slink, with space for nifty organ and guitar solos. “Not Fade Away” — restoring Buddy Holly’s tempo — ends the record, letting loose the whole band without going over the top. Its message? Taylor and the gang won’t fade away. Expect more covers. If there’s a misstep on the record, it might be Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” Maybe we’re supposed to remember another Suzanne (“Fire and Rain”). But this record isn’t about such ideas. Why buy the record? For the exquisite pleasure of hearing it, singing along, and appreciating the fun James had making it. I admit it. I’m a diehard fan.
There’s an MP3 of “Hound Dog” and also a contest to win a free copy of Covers here.