Sunday, 31 October 2010

"James Taylor" by JAMES TAYLOR (2010 Apple 'Expanded Edition' CD Reissue and Remaster In Gatefold Card Repro Artwork) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"…In My Mind…I'm Going To Carolina…"

In 2008 I reviewed a reissue CD on Rhino called "The Circle Game" by American singer-songwriter-catalyst TOM RUSH. The original LP was issued in the USA on Elektra Records in 1968 - and apart from two original compositions from Rush - the album subsequently became famous for introducing 3 new writers and their extraordinary songs to the world (all on the same album) - Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and JAMES TAYLOR.

Bolstered by his need to capitalise on this modest success - Taylor arrived in London in March 1968 - was signed to The Beatles 'Apple' label within weeks - recorded his songs between June and October 1968 and then saw his own self-titled debut LP released in December of that fateful year.

This UK CD is an 'Expanded Edition' of that 1968 "James Taylor" debut album - one of 14 Apple Label albums remastered and reissued on 25 October 2010. 

Apple 5099990581120 comes in a card digipak (Barcode is also 5099990581120) and breaks down as follows (51:09 minutes):

1. Don't Talk Now
2. Something's Wrong
3. Knocking 'Round The Zoo
4. Sunshine Sunshine
5. Taking It In
6. Something In The Way She Moves [Side 2]
7. Carolina In My Mind
8. Brighten Your Night With My Day
9. Night Owl
10. Rainy Day Man
11. Circle Around The Sun
12. The Blues Is Just A Bad Dream
Tracks 1 to 12 are the LP "James Taylor" released 6 December 1968 in the UK on Apple APCOR 3 (Mono)/SAPCOR 3 (Stereo) and on Apple SKAO-3352 in early 1969 in the USA (STEREO Mix Used on the CD).

Tracks 13 to 16 are FOUR PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED DEMOS - bonus tracks new to this 2010 issue (there were none on the 1991 reissue):
13 and 14 - ”Sunny Skies" and "Let Me Ride" were recorded in Los Angeles in early 1969 with Danny Kortchmar on Guitars, Charlie Larkey on Bass and Bishop O'Brien on Drums.

15 and 16 - “Sunshine Sunshine" and "Carolina In My Mind" were recorded in London in the Summer of 1968 as MONO Solo Acoustic Demos.

"Sunshine Sunshine" was one of the tracks that appeared on the Tom Rush album - "Something In The Way She Moves" was the other. "Sunny Skies" was re-recorded for the "Sweet Baby James" album in 1970, while a longer version of "Let It Ride" turned on "Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon" LP in 1971.

"Something In The Way She Moves" was covered by Matthews Southern Comfort on their "Second Spring" album in 1970 (a lovely version) - while Taylor famously returned to "Something..." and "Carolina..." with re-recorded versions on his 1976 "Greatest Hits" set for Columbia Records (these versions are truly beautiful and better known than the Apple originals).

The liner notes are split in two - PETER ASHER explains Taylor's signing and how the album came about - while noted writer and music lover ANDY DAVIS follows this with very informational details on the songs and their history. Unfortunately, like all the other reissues in this series, the booklet is a disappointingly weedy 12-pages (EMI pushes the boat out again people). Having said that, both men do at least fill it with properly informative details, trade adverts, colour photos of a young Taylor and even an 'Internal Memo' from Asher to the US branch of Apple telling them to sign their new discovery. The playing credits are on the last page. Also - when the album was issued in the UK, it originally came with 'orange' lettering on the front cover which was then replaced with 'black' lettering on 1970 represses - the outer digipak has 'black' while the booklet 'orange' - a nice nod towards both issues. The MONO mix of the album is nowhere to be seen and not available as an extra download (nor are any other tracks).

The same team that handled the much-praised 09/09/09 Beatles remasters have done this - GUY MASSEY, STEVE ROOKES, PHIL HICKS and SIMON GIBSON. The audio quality is BEAUTIFUL - a massive improvement. I wish I could say the same of the music...

As much as I love James Taylor's Warner Brothers albums (who doesn't), this 1968 debut is not great. First is the way it's presented - before each tune is a short musical ditty which flows into the song itself, but mostly it doesn't work - and worse - detracts from the music. Then the song itself is overdone. How to describe this - imagine someone taking one of the quieter acoustic songs off "Tea For A Tillerman" by Cat Stevens or Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" and preceding it with a English choral ditty that doesn't match the track (you can't cue up the beginning of the song because of it). Then it gets funked-up halfway through with brass and heavy-handed drum bits to make it a pop hit - you get the idea. They're not all like this of course ("Something's Wrong" is preceded by "Green Leaves" and is good), but most of the others are ruined with this lead-in gimmick and then an overloaded track.

It's easy of course to point the finger of blame 42 years after the event - Apple were trying to make a commercially viable album at the time (Asher mentions 'over-production' in the liner notes). But had Taylor been left alone or recorded in the States - how different things might have been. As it is, what we do get is a glimpse of that greatness in the shockingly good bonus tracks (two with a band, two alone) - especially the beautifully recorded acoustic demos of "Carolina In My Mind" and "Sunshine Sunshine". The tone of his voice is so sweet - and already he had his 'own' sound that is still recognizable to this day. A whole album of these pared-down band/solo numbers and Apple's belief in him as a 'major' songwriting force would have vindicated ten-fold.

To sum up - the improved sound quality will thrill fans and the bonus tracks are exactly that - bonuses. But "James Taylor" is on the way towards "Sweet Baby James" and "Mud Slide Slim..." and it would take a different country and label to get there...

A nice reissue then - but in a three-star kind of way.

PS: see also my reviews for other releases in this October 2010 series
"That's The Way God Planned It" (1969) and "Encouraging Words" (1970) by Billy Preston, "Doris Troy" (1970), "Is This What You Want?" (1969) by Jackie Lomax, "Magic Christian Music" (1969), "No Dice" (1970), "Straight Up" (1972) and "Ass" (1973) by Badfinger

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