Written By Samantha Evans
We started to love him with songs like “Fire and Rain,” You’ve Got a Friend,” and my personal favorite, “Sweet Baby James.” James Taylor has captured the hearts and minds with his simplistic tunes and smooth voice since his start over 40 years ago. He is the master of embodying the art of songwriting in the most personal and widely ranged way. Five Grammy’s and many multi-platinum albums later, Taylor comes back with his 2015 release Before This World. 13 years have gone by since his last album and although the times have changed, Taylor’s music has not. Bringing in events from his own life, the album reflects a personal journey in a standard James Taylor folk album.
Starting the album is a twangy country song, “Today, Today, Today.” Wailing fiddles, harmonica, playful melodies, and deep lyrics like, “The way ahead is clear. My heart is free from fear. I’ll plant my flag right here. Today, today, today,” make this the perfect start to the album. Slowing it down with a simplistic almost Carole King-like piano and a cheery violin in the background, “You and I again,” adores a lover’s bond and story. “ And so although I know we’re only small in the time we have here. This time we have it all. You and I again this time, This time.”
James introduces hymn-like backup vocals and catchy melodies in, “Angels of Fenway.” He brings the listener back to the Boston Red Sox victories even if you weren’t there, Taylor outlines the story of his time at Fenway and proclaims, “doesn’t feel like a long time ago..” Telling a tale of when he’s out on the road, Taylor sings a bluesy, soulful, horn backed song with, “Stretch of the Highway.” From the get go he tells of his traveling times and missing his home, “Grew up some kind of travelin’ man. Sunday morning, pack my things. Say so long sweet potato I’m on the road again. Oh it’s a lovely stretch of the highway leading me on.”
“Montana,” a simple yet effective tune about looking back on the many years of life and the wonder of the different places and things Taylor has experienced. The song tells of the yearning of a simplistic life away from the city. “I’m not smart enough for this life I’ve been livin’, a little bit slow for the pace of the dream. It’s not I’m ungrateful for all I’ve been given; but nevertheless, just the same… Over the ocean from here. Over the mountains from there.” A more upbeat tune, “Watchin’ Over Me,” is more of something to sing by a campfire but is still powerful nonetheless. Harmonious vocalists and catchy lyrics, the song brings in raging fiddles to embed in the listeners mind. “Lookin’ back over on the damage I done. Made no kind of plan to be carryin’ on. Thought I might ought to been dead and gone I said oh the damage done.”
Ever get lost in an unknown town? “Snowtime” tells the story of getting lost in Toronto with a chant from the background vocalists and a flare of Spanish guitar. On the album titled song, “Before This World/Jolly Springtime,” Sting lends his vocal talent to the track with such precision and lingering lyrics. A moaning violin turns into a beating drum as the song picks up the tone. “Let the day run long. Let the river run high. That tomorrow may live so must yesterday die.”
Battlefield drums and a nearly Celtic guitar reign through the soldier’s point of view in “Far Afghanistan.” The fear, the struggle, the beauty of the camaraderie of being an American soldier all march through the song until the end. To pick the listener back up after such an intense song, “Wild Mountain Thyme” has a cheery melody that ties the album together and brings it to a close. Originally a native Irish song, Taylor keeps the song true to its roots but has his own beautiful twist to it. A perfect end to a nostalgic piece. “Oh, the summer time is coming, and the trees are sweetly blooming, and the wild mountain thyme grows around the purple heather. Will you go, lassie, will you go?”
Whether you have been a fan of Mr. Taylor for quite some time or just recently came across him, the man is a beautiful poet and a nostalgic story teller with a warm voice to match. A great artist captured the many stages of his talent and created a true masterpiece.