On his last couple of Warner Brothers albums, Gorilla and In the Pocket, James Taylor seemed to be converting himself from the shrinking violet, too-sensitive-to-live "rainy day man" of his early records into a mainstream, easy-listening crooner with a sunny outlook. JT, his debut album for Columbia Records, was something of a defense of this conversion. Returning to the autobiographical, Taylor declared his love for Carly Simon ("There We Are"), but expressed some surprise at his domestic bliss…
James Taylor had scored eight Top 40 hits by the fall of 1976 when Warner Brothers marked the end of his contract with this compilation. One of those hits, the Top Ten gold single “Mockingbird,” a duet with his wife Carly Simon, was on Elektra Records, part of the Warner family of labels and presumably available, but it was left off.
James Taylor's seventh album and last new recording for Warner Bros. is notable for producing his biggest self-written hit in four years, "Shower the People" (number 22 pop, number one easy listening). Bobby Womack's "Woman's Gotta Have It" was the album's only cover, and elsewhere Taylor took on a surprisingly rough set of issues in his typically gentle style, including "A Junkie's Lament" and "Money Machine." There were also reflections on being a "Family Man" even if, due to his peripatetic touring life, "Daddy's All Gone." Guest stars included Art Garfunkel, who harmonized on "Captain Jim's Drunken Dream," and Stevie Wonder, who co-wrote and played harmonica on "Don't Be Sad 'Cause Your Sun Is Down." On the whole, a respectable effort for an artist who was evolving into more of a craftsman than a virtuoso.
There's a comfortable sense of the familiar to James Taylor's first collection of new songs since 1997's Grammy winner Hourglass; such is the curse of being a decades-spanning cultural icon. But, as on his best work, there's also an almost stealthy sense of musical restlessness that seeps into Taylor's songs here, as he colors some with deft jazz and international influences. The reunion with producer Russ Titelman (they last collaborated on 1976's In the Pocket) seems to have gratifyingly inspired as much gentle reassessment as retrenchment. Longtime Titelman compatriot Ry Cooder guests on the title track, a song whose autumnal comforts fit the Taylor canon and other album tracks like "September Grass," "Baby Buffalo," "My Traveling Star," and "On the Fourth of July" (the story of Taylor's romantic meeting with current wife Kim) like an old slipper.
James Taylor stopped pushing himself into new musical and lyrical territories in the late '70s, so it doesn't come as a great surprise that Hourglass, his first studio album in six years, doesn't offer anything new – it's a collection of pleasant, melodic, simple songs about love, family, and social activism. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since Taylor has a gift for such material, and on Hourglass, he sounds as good as ever. The music, in many ways, has greater depth than previous records, since it features cameos from such heavy hitters as Stevie Wonder, Yo-Yo Ma, Shawn Colvin, Michael Brecker, Mark O'Connor, and Branford Marsalis. There are a few songs that fall a little flat, failing to make much of an impression one way or the other, but on the whole, Hourglass is a nice addition to his catalog.
Learn five James Taylor tracks note for note with Lee Hodgson This superb DVD will teach you five fingerpicked acoustic classics from one of the most popular singer-songwriters of the 70s. Tracks include; Fire And Rain, You've Got A Friend ,Carolina On My Mind, You Can Close Your Eyes, Sweet Baby James. Lee Hodgson is a versatile studio musician and vastly experienced stage performer. He is also a regularly featured columnist and transcriber for both Guitarist and Guitar Techniques magazine.