28 February, 2020Print
James Taylor – AMERICAN STANDARD Overview
It takes an extraordinary artist to re-imagine some of the most beloved songs of the 20th century and make them completely their own. That’s precisely what James Taylor has accomplished with his new album, American Standard. Recalling the best of his early work, James infuses new sounds and fresh meaning into these timeless works of art. While these 14 carefully chosen interpretations naturally feature James’s warm, one-of-a-kind vocal ability and incomparable musicianship, what makes this collection unique is the inventive way James and his fellow co-producers, longtime collaborator Dave O’Donnell and jazz musician John Pizzarelli, approached the project. Unlike most who have tackled similar material, American Standard’s beautifully simple, stripped-down arrangements are based on the 2-guitar collaboration of James and John Pizzarelli, rather than standard piano arrangements. James was determined to keep that sound at the center of the project, and the affect is mesmerizing.
American Standard follows James’s first-ever #1 album, 2015’s Before This World. It was primarily recorded at his home studio, TheBarn in Washington, MA, with additional work done at United Recording and Capitol Studios in Los Angeles and Treasure Isle and Blackbird Studios in Nashville. An all-star array of Taylor’s musical comrades make significant contributions here including on drums, Steve Gadd; percussion, Luis Conte; bass, Jimmy Johnson; upright bass, Viktor Krauss; melodica/Hammond B3 Organ, Larry Goldings; trumpet/flugelhorn, Walt Fowler; clarinet/sax, Lou Marini; violin, Stuart Duncan; dobro, Jerry Douglas; and vocals, Arnold McCuller, Kate Markowitz, Andrea Zonn, Dorian Holley and Caroline Taylor.
A small sampling of the album’s inspired repertoire includes James’s swinging take on Walter Donaldson and George A. Whiting’s “My Blue Heaven,” a huge hit for crooner Gene Austin in 1928; Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s enduring “Almost Like Being In Love,” from the score of the musical Brigadoon; Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington’s enchanting “The Nearness of You,” first popularized in 1940 by the Glenn Miller Orchestra; Frank Loesser’s jaunty “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” from the Broadway smash Guys and Dolls; Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” from South Pacific; James’s superb reading of the Billie Holiday-Arthur Herzog Jr. classic “God Bless The Child,” and the first ever cover of a song originally featured in the 1938 Merrie Melodies cartoon Katnip Kollege “As Easy As Rolling Off A Log.”
Growing up in a musical family, James fell in love with the exquisite melodies, impeccable phrasing and concise storytelling of the early era songwriting masters absorbing the qualities that would become essential to his work in popular music a few years later. American Standard is a reminder of the things that make James Taylor so special, a supreme dedication to his craft and an abiding appreciation for the everlasting power of the American song.