Judge Ben Saylor has a got a friend, but you don't see him running around recording songs about it.
"…It's been in my mind for a while to work small again…"-James Taylor
Singer-songwriter James Taylor has soothed music lovers with his silky baritone for decades now, and shows no signs of stopping as he nears 60 years of age. Last summer, after years of traveling with a band, Taylor decided to go back to basics, and the result is One Man Band, an intimate collection of songs played before an enthusiastic audience at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Taylor's hometown, and recorded over several July days this past summer. The concert is presented on both CD and DVD, with the same set list for each:
"Something in the Way She Moves"
As can be deduced from this set list, Taylor relies mostly on his signature numbers for this collection. I'm hardly a Taylor expert, however, so several tracks, including "The Frozen Man," a cut off his 1991 album New Moon Shine and "Line 'Em Up," a song from his 1997 record Hourglass, were new to me. Both are also excellent tunes; "The Frozen Man" is one of my favorites from this set. Other highlights include "Something in the Way She Moves," "My Traveling Star" and "Shower the People," although really, the only songs I outright disliked were the bizarre "Slap Leather" (which Taylor sings through a megaphone) and Taylor's perennial jam "Steamroller Blues." The strange ditty "Chili Dog," off Taylor's 1973 album One Man Dog, while not bad exactly, is nonetheless not much more than a throwaway. It should also be noted that "School Song" is a short instrumental performed by Larry Goldings (more on him later). Overall, on the strength of the music alone, I don't think I would recommend this for casual Taylor fans; if you own a greatest hits CD, you already have most of these songs, and Taylor doesn't shake things up enough with their presentation here to justify buying this.
Although the title of this set is One Man Band, don't be fooled; this isn't just Taylor and his guitar. The talented Larry Goldings, who Taylor identifies as the one man band of the title, accompanies him on piano, synthesizer, organ and harmonium. In addition, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (of which Taylor's wife Caroline is a member) sings on a few songs. Finally, there is a drum machine featured in two songs, although I won't say anything more about it, as the machine is actually one of the concert's cleverer conceits.
But One Man Band is not just about the music. What makes the DVD so special is that Taylor enhances the concert with his own remembrances about his life and work, complementing his thoughts with a slideshow of pictures and video footage. The quiet Taylor spins an amusing yarn, and the packed audience frequently chuckles at his anecdotes. Taylor's stories help enrich these already-wonderful songs and lend a welcome intimacy to the presentation, even when viewed from one's home. The classy presentation of the concert, from producer/director Don Mischer and executive producers Sydney Pollack (who most recently directed The Interpreter), Michael Gorfaine and Sam Feldman, includes plenty of different camera angles and setups, and the image quality on the disc is solid. Soundwise, this is James Taylor, so don't expect it to give your speakers a workout, but it's still mixed nicely. The disc's sole extra is a short outtakes reel, which is a must-watch for Taylor's amusing story about performing "Fire and Rain" on the British music show Top of the Pops.
Again, while casual fans might not enjoy One Man Band, this CD/DVD set is a must for avid James Taylor fans, if not for the CD (which is pretty good itself) then for the excellent DVD presentation. Not guilty.
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