LIVE: James Taylor @ Tanglewood, 7/3/12

James Taylor @ Tanglewood, 7/3/12
James Taylor

Review by Joel Patterson
Photograph by Darlene Bordwell

It’s been 41 years since James Taylor and his shaggy mane graced the cover of Time Magazine, the herald angel of a new era in pop music. His stripped-down, acoustic guitar-based “new folk” in true dialectic fashion signaled a retreat from the excesses of overblown ’60s rock with its apocalyptic bombast and eve-of-destruction politics. The James Taylors and Jackson Brownes were anguished and introspective, weaving tales of confusion and contradiction – reveries shot through with pain and simple joys compromised by nagging self-awareness and complicity.

I am pleased to report that the modern James Taylor still has the voice of that haunted post-teenager, strong and zesty and ringing. That right there is the reason for his longevity and legions of devoted fans. He still sings his signature chestnuts with urgency and power. Even though… you could say he’s turned out differently than you might have expected. The brooding, angry young man is gone without a trace – in his place is a supremely relaxed, at times goofy oldster who looks like he stepped in from a casting call for “The Andy Griffith Show” – the understudy for Barney Fife, maybe? If he struggles with the aging process, it doesn’t show. Rather than being trendy and filling the stage with youngsters, gray hair predominates. The combined show business experience of his current, razor-sharp and whip-smart band must total hundreds of years. So what if his eyebrows dance, perhaps involuntarily, and when he dons a cap he resembles a turtle? His musical instincts are flawless, and he whirls around in a frenzy when the spirit moves him, which is often.

The strongest tunes of the evening were blues with some manner of punch – a cover of “Roadrunner,” a hot-cha-cha rendition of “Mexico,” a show-stopping pre-finale “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” The actual finale, a touching duet with his wife Kim on “You Can Close Your Eyes,” was gorgeous and holistic and picture perfect. “You can sing this song when I’m gone,” goes one line. Although that day grows closer with every passing season, no one can deny that when this guy stands before the Father, the sisters of the sun will be belting out the harmonies. Can’t ask for more than that.

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