Top Fifty 7: James Taylor – Sweet Baby James, 1970

[Originally posted April 2012]

14

James Taylor

Two interesting factors bear on this posting – firstly, it is my 26th in this selection of a top fifty which is hardly random yet can never be complete as it is impossible to definitively make such a selection, but I’m half-way through the effort and delighted to be arriving at this wonderful choice; and secondly, when my youngest daughter visited recently and I was playing a live recording of early Taylor she complained that it reminded her of Sundays when she lived here and I was working as a teacher: hopefully not entirely hating all Sundays at home, but somehow, perhaps, equating listening to Taylor being played with my probably marking and not being attentive enough – it will always be a regret as a family man but a consequence of teaching – whilst also her having a natural disinclination for Taylor’s softrock material and often laconic singing style.

As a huge fan – clearly to this day – my continual playing in the house always soothed and pleased me! Sweet Baby James, Taylor’s second solo album [his first James Taylor was recorded and produced by Apple Records, with JT the first non-British artist signed to the label] represents everything that is special about him as a singer/songwriter: superb vocal and phrasing, distinctive finger-picking guitar style [he trained on the cello], and his songcraft. Songs like Sweet Baby James, Sunny Skies, Country Road, the clever cover of Oh Susannah, and the hit Fire and Rain are recordings that resonate as folk classics today as much as they were fresh and stand-out when first heard. Some of the brilliant musicians involved in the recording of these songs are: pianist and gifted contemporary songwriter Carol King; guitarist and close friend Danny Kortchmar; the great long-haired and long-bearded bassist Leland Sklar, and Randy Meisner.

15

The folk road is what the acoustic guitarist mostly treads, but Taylor is in my view also a great blues/R&B singer, revealed in the other great track from this album, Steamroller. Performed and sung live, Taylor plays a mean electric guitar, but his vocal is what excels as it exploits his full range and revels in the blues inflections on great lines like churning urn of burning funk. In early live performances of this Taylor mocks the heavy machinery of the lyrical allusions, but it seems today an unnecessary self-effacement because it can be such a stonking live number [and Taylor’s soulful singing range can be heard on his fine version of Marvin Gaye’s How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)].

Although that unique vocal is just showing the occasional signs of frailty on the most recent live examples, I do feel Taylor’s voice has matured over the many years of his career where so many other singers can lose theirs. When he is singing any of the tracks from this great album, there is always the most remarkable triggering of memory of their time – and that applies to millions of fans and listeners – both in the connection those dominant songs have to that time and in the seamless vocal transition across the years of this significant musician. Long live Sundays and all others whenever and wherever he is played [with the caveat that not when my daughter is around….].

16

Poetry Reviewed 2017

Poetry collections I have reviewed in 2017:

Ian Seed – Italian Lessons, Like This Press

Nikki Dudley – Hope Alt Delete, Knives Forks and Spoons Press

Jim Burns – Confessions of an Old Believer, Redbeck Press

Okla Elliott – The Cartographer’s Ink, NYQ Books

Luke Kennard – Cain, Penned in the Margins

David Baker – Scavenger Loop, W.W. Norton & Company

Rupert M Loydell – Dear Mary, Shearsman Books

Lemn Sissay – Gold From the Stone, Canongate Books

Adrian Mitchell – Ride the Nightmare, Jonathan Cape Ltd

Carrie Etter – Scar, Shearsman Books

Jim Burns – Solid Flesh for Food 1, concretemeatpress

Daniel Y. Harris and Rupert M. Loydell – The Co-ordinates of Doubt, Knives Forks and Spoons Press

Ruth Valentine – The Grenfell Alphabet, self-published

Ted Hughes – A Solstice, The Sceptre Press

Peter Reading – Water and Waste, Outposts Publications

Roger McGough – various ‘early’ collections, mainly Cape

James Davies – Stack, Carcanet

Rupert M Loydell – Talking Shadows, Red Ceilings Press

Click on a book title to read review. I think the poetry collections actually published in 2017 just shade the balance, but a number of the reviews are of older books, some significantly so.

boxing day [*]

jab jab jab to the hangover
or it could be that doing it

jab jab jab

an uppercut to gut
too

haymaker now just a long arc of a swing to try out it still being able to move

and

not

fall

down

jab jab jab

jab jab

it can be hard to sustain

jab fat jab fat jab fat

below the belt
is where most of it is at

a
canvas
slip

rope burns from the soap on a
but that was another year

no count
rub the gloves
look into your own eyes

jab jab jab

southpaw stance
mouthawe trance

technical knock out

 

[*] just a whimsy

 

 

Top Fifty 6: Buddy Rich – Swingin’ Big Band, 1966

[originally posted October 2011]

13

Buddy Rich – Swingin’ Big Band

Excuse the repetition – as with selecting Bert Jansch’s sampler album as a ‘Top Fifty’ after his recent sad death and the memory this prompted of listening to that album so much when younger, exploring old jazz records these last two days has prompted my return to celebrate this live recording of Buddy Rich’s stonking big band sound and his own phenomenal drumming.

Recorded live at the Club Chez, Hollywood California, this album is a lot of fun. The audience response throughout adds to the album’s energy. There are sharp sax solos by Jay Corre [as on the Stevie Wonder song Up Tight] to satisfy that incipient love of the instrument I have already described, as well as some great trombone work by John Boice on My Man’s Gone Now, and Jim Trimble on the brilliant West Side Story Medley.

My absolute favourite on the album is the medley at 10 minutes of big band excellence. Rich orchestrates a booming opening blast with screaming brass and his drumming laying down a driving beat for Corre’s saxophone to ride early on. Rich uses the drums to signal the song and mood shifts within the whole and there is a beautiful midway trombone delivery of Somewhere that leads to an orchestral crescendo climbing to a Rich drum roll then brass/drum duel sparking a drum solo victory that ignites the audience and this listener. This track closes side 2 of the album but I recently bought a cd copy that adds another eight tracks, Apples including more rolling Rich solos, and a sweet ballad Lament for Lester.

When studying for my A levels at then Ipswich Civic College, students had to chose, as I recall, a ‘Liberal Arts’ course and I naturally chose Music Appreciation. To this day I’m pretty sure I was one of the few who really wanted to be there and enjoyed the range of music, from classical to contemporary, that was presented by the music teacher. Each week students could bring in albums of their choice to be played, and I was one of the keenies who did, bringing in for one session this Buddy Rich album and being, quite likely, the only one there who thought as we listened it was a damn fine and far out choice. And I still do today, so here it is in my existential Top Fifty.