1970, Music

Sweet Baby James (1970) by James Taylor

I don’t like James Taylor. But I’m not sure I knew that before listening to this album. I don’t think I’d ventured much of an opinion about him before, because he never seemed very interesting to me. I have a friend who likes him, and I think tried to get me into him at one point, but I never bothered because of how innocuous he seemed. Well, he certainly is that.

There are songs on here that I think are quite good – “Fire and Rain” has dulled for me from overplaying but it’s a pretty great song – but there are also some that work less well for me and I feel like are a bit throwaway. (And “Sunny Skies” is fairly lame.) But my problem is not, for a second, with James Taylor as a songwriter. I can actually imagine an alternate reality in which I like James Taylor because his songs are presented better. I don’t think I’d ever get to the point where I loved his songs as much as certain contemporaries’ songs, but I can imagine these songs connecting with me more, if only I could get past certain things.

I have two problems with this record and, presumably, James Taylor records in general:

The first is his voice. That is not really his fault, of course, but it is a fact for me that James Taylor’s voice is milquetoast for me. It is the embodiment of the smooth ’70s and is just so damn meek and (seemingly) eager-to-please. This is regardless of the words he is singing which, as you might guess, bugs me. And it’s particularly ill-suited to the songs on this record in which he tries to “rock” (for lack of a better word) – such as “Steamroller” or “Oh Baby, Don’t You Loose Your Lip on Me” – or to fully go roots (say on “Lo and Behold”). He sounds like an imposter on those tracks, and not a very good one. I do not like his voice.

But he’s not helped by the arrangements, which are typical singer-songwriter records of this era. On a number of songs there are way too many songs and everything is immaculately played and recorded. There is no edge to this recording despite lyrics that might benefit from such an edge, such as those of its most famous song.

Sure, this is not a bad record: the songs are mostly decent, it is well made and the things I think are bad about it are nit-picky and particular to my tastes. But I cannot ever imagining wanting to listen to this record and it sure doesn’t make me want to listen to his other albums, many of which are not supposed to be as good as this one.

6/10 I guess

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