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Shower The People: “The Essential James Taylor” Blends Best of Columbia, Warner Years

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Essential James TaylorIf you, like me, immediately think of James Taylor whenever you hear the initials “JT” in the context of a music superstar, then Legacy Recordings has a release just for you!  The Essential James Taylor, due on October 29 like The Essential Boz Scaggs, is the troubadour’s first-ever 2-CD career-spanning anthology.  Its 30 studio and live tracks draw on the artist’s tenures at Warner Bros., Columbia and Hear Music, from 1970’s breakthrough Sweet Baby James through 2007’s One Man Band.

Following James Taylor’s self-titled 1968 Apple Records debut (which its producer, Peter Asher, wrote “[could be] fairly described as ‘over-produced’”), the British Asher and American Taylor decamped for the U.S., and specifically, Los Angeles.  Though James Taylor met with little success, Asher still believed in his charge.  Taylor assembled loyal friends, including a pre-Tapestry Carole King and future Eagle Randy Meisner, to support his often-gentle vocals and distinctive guitar style on his Warner Bros. debut, Sweet Baby James. That combination of an innately sweet voice with an almost painfully honest lyric led “Fire and Rain” straight to a No. 3 placement on the Billboard Hot 100, but that single is far from all the Grammy-nominated Sweet Baby James has to offer. The Essential includes “Fire and Rain” plus the title track.  Five more studio LPs followed at Warners through 1976 all of which are represented on the new compilation: Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon (“Long Ago and Far Away,” the chart-topping “You’ve Got a Friend”), One Man Dog (“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”), Walking Man (“Walking Man”), Gorilla (“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),” “Mexico” with David Crosby and Graham Nash on backing vocals),  and In the Pocket (“Shower the People”).  Taylor closed out his Warner Bros. period with the release of the multiple-platinum-selling Greatest Hits, which included new versions of two songs from his Apple debut, “Carolina in My Mind” and “Something in the Way She Moves,” plus an exclusive live version of “Steamroller” from Sweet Baby James.  All three of those have been included on The Essential.

After the jump: an overview of Taylor’s Columbia years and beyond, plus the full track listing and pre-order links!

In 1977, James Taylor jumped ship from Warner Bros. to the greener pastures of Columbia.  His longtime producer Asher joined him, and JT marked their first effort at the new label.  Taylor was rapidly rewarded, as JT spawned the hit singles “Your Smiling Face” and “Handy Man,” the latter of which snagged the singer a Grammy Award.  Both songs appear on The Essential, as does “Honey Don’t Leave L.A.”  It was his highest-charting album since 1971’s Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, but Taylor took his time for a follow-up.  Flag didn’t arrive until almost two full years later, in May 1979. When it did, it yielded another hit reinvention of a Carole King song: “Up on the Roof,” co-written with Gerry Goffin.  While that Top 40 hit has not been chosen for inclusion on The Essential, it does pluck “Millworker” (written by Taylor for the Broadway musical Working) from Flag.  In 1981, James was “Dad” to daughter Sally (born in 1974) and son Ben (born in 1977), though his marriage to their mother Carly Simon was rapidly disintegrating.  Married since 1972, they would divorce in 1983.  Dad Loves His Work, the 1981 follow-up to Flag, was a more intensely personal album than its predecessor, with the artist reflecting on his own familial relationships including his relationship with Simon.  He teamed with J.D. Souther as both co-writer and singer on “Her Town, Too” which climbed both the Pop and AC charts and helped Taylor score another platinum success.

JT remained at Columbia for five more studio albums through 2002: That’s Why I’m Here (“Everyday,” “Only One”), Never Die Young (“Never Die Young”), New Moon Shine (“Copperline,” “The Water is Wide”), Hourglass (“Little More Time with You,” “Another Day”) and October Road (“Caroline I See You”).  The selections on The Essential are rounded out by “Country Road” and “Secret o’ Life” from the Columbia 1992 double album (LIVE) plus 2000’s “Hard Times Come Around No More” with Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor, and “My Traveling Star” and “You Can Close Your Eyes” from the Hear Music live album One Man Band.  No material has been selected from Taylor’s Christmas album, his 2008 Covers album or his reunion with Carole King on Live at the Troubadour.

The Essential James Taylor is the first major retrospective for Taylor since 2003’s single-disc The Best of James Taylor on the Warner Bros. label drawing on Taylor’s Apple, Warner and Columbia repertoire.  This 2-CD set from Legacy Recordings is due in stores on October 29 and can be ordered at the links below!

The Essential James Taylor (Warner Bros./Columbia/Legacy, 2013) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Disc 1

  1. Sweet Baby James
  2. Fire and Rain
  3. Long Ago and Far Away
  4. You’ve Got a Friend
  5. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
  6. Walking Man
  7. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)
  8. Mexico
  9. Shower the People
  10. Steamroller (live)
  11. Something in the Way She Moves
  12. Carolina on My Mind
  13. Handy Man
  14. Your Smiling Face
  15. Honey Don’t Leave L.A.

Disc 2

  1. Millworker
  2. Her Town Too (with J.D. Souther)
  3. Everyday
  4. Only One
  5. Never Die Young
  6. Copperline
  7. The Water is Wide
  8. Country Road (live)
  9. Secret O’ Life (live)
  10. Little More Time with You
  11. Another Day
  12. Hard Times Come Again No More – Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor with James Taylor
  13. Caroline I See You
  14. My Traveling Star (live)
  15. You Can Close Your Eyes (live)

Disc 1, Tracks 1-2 from Sweet Baby James (Warner Bros., 1970)
Disc 1, Tracks 3-4 from Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon (Warner Bros., 1971)
Disc 1, Track 5 from One Man Dog (Warner Bros., 1972)
Disc 1, Track 6 from Walking Man (Warner Bros., 1974)
Disc 1, Tracks 7-8 from Gorilla (Warner Bros., 1975)
Disc 1, Track 9 from In the Pocket (Warner Bros., 1976)
Disc 1, Tracks 10-12 from James Taylor’s Greatest Hits (Warner Bros., 1976)
Disc 1, Tracks 13-15 from JT (Columbia, 1977)
Disc 2, Track 1 from Flag (Columbia, 1979)
Disc 2, Track 2 from Dad Loves His Work (Columbia, 1981)
Disc 2, Tracks 3-4 from That’s Why I’m Here (Columbia, 1985)
Disc 2, Track 5 from Never Die Young (Columbia, 1988)
Disc 2, Tracks 6-7 from New Moon Shine (Columbia, 1991)
Disc 2, Tracks 8-9 from (LIVE) (Columbia, 1992)
Disc 2, Tracks 10-11 from Hourglass (Columbia, 1997)
Disc 2, Track 12 from Appalachian Journey (Sony Classical, 2000)
Disc 2, Track 13 from October Road (Columbia, 2002)
Disc 2, Tracks 14-15 from One Man Band (Hear Music, 2007)

Written by Joe Marchese

October 17, 2013 at 10:06

9 Responses

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  1. Not the true box set retrospective that he deserves but a good set.


    October 17, 2013 at 11:08

  2. Meh. Not much better than the previous, single-disc best-of – except for the later material of limited interest to old farts like me (I pretty much got off the bus after “That’s Why I’m Here”). A little worse on the Warner stuff, a little better on the prime Sony material (consider the source…). Mainly, this points out how badly JT deserves a real retrospective – three or four disc boxed set including Apple, Warner, and Sony masters.

    Question: Any idea if this is the uncensored version of “Steamroller Blues”? On “Best” (2003) he electronically garbled the naughty bit that comes right after “chicken choking”….

    Randy Anthony

    October 17, 2013 at 11:29

    • Meh! is right. How they can omit hit singles like Up On The Roof in these collections is beyond me. I’ll pass.


      October 17, 2013 at 12:37

    • Agreed, although there are some fine songs on Never Die Young, New Moon Shines and (especially) Hourglass. In fact, I’d say Hourglass is easily JT’s best album since “JT,” or maybe even since Mud Slide Slim.

      Very little that he’s done since Hourglass has interested me though. The “Covers” albums are uninspired, and October Road was a bland follow-up to Hourglass. My wife bought One Man Band, which is fine, but we haven’t listened to it in ages. The “(Live)” album is far superior.


      October 17, 2013 at 21:16

  3. This is a useless collection if there ever was one. The silver lining is, and I think there are e few good omens, this (in)Essential collection MIGHT precede by a few month a “complete albums” box (just as it happened for Nilsson earlier this year).


    October 17, 2013 at 11:57

  4. But the stars would have to align at Warner and Sony to simultaneously release TWO complete albums boxes: The Warner Years would likely have flimsy cardboard, no bonus tracks and all-over-the-map mastering at a cheap price, and the Columbia Years would probably fair much better in sound and packaging quality for a more expensive price.


    October 17, 2013 at 16:29

    • And let’s not forget Taylor’s first LP on Apple… 😉 (by the way that one has already had the honour of a big set, Apple’s 17-disc a few years ago).

      My idea was that, if they’ve been able to release a combined 2-cd anthology, they might as well pull together a proper box-set…
      Actually, it’s Sony who has released (in 2010, and recently re-released) a flimsy 5disc collection in the abominable “Original Album Classics”… so after all these cheap releases it might be time for a comprehensive, annotated box. It all depends if the companies’ big wigs think sales figure will follow… if so, everything is possible…


      October 18, 2013 at 02:35

  5. I have to agree with the negative comments I’m reading here. No “Up On The Roof” or “That’s Why I’m Here?” A missed opportunity on a more definite collection points to the need for a box set on Mr. Taylor. Are the duets with his former wife and those original Apple versions from his first album considered off-limits for something like this? They could have easily gone 38-40 tracks on this instead of a measly 30 for a two-disc set. I was really surprised when I saw the listing.

    Charles Klaus

    October 17, 2013 at 19:58

  6. No single version of “Country Road”?


    October 21, 2013 at 11:54

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