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James Taylor

Columbia JC 34811
Released: June 1977
Chart Peak: #4
Weeks Charted: 39
Certified Double Platinum: 7/6/89

James TaylorJT is James Taylor coming out of his personal closet. In "Looking for Love on Broadway" he sings, "Had my fill of self-pity," and that's epochal stuff for the man who almost single-handedly developed the eyes-affixed-to-the-navel songwriting and performing posture. Yet the album supports Taylor's claim.

Only one song on JT, "Another Grey Morning," even skirts depression, and that song illustrates Taylor's evolution rather neatly. The form and content of Taylor's most striking work have always reflected an intense duality: the imagery was all "night and day," the singing hauntingly schizoid. Taylor could sound icily calm intoning lyrics such as "Ain't it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind," or couch his most distressingly unhappy lyrics in jaunty tunes like "Sunny Skies."

James Taylor - JT
Original album advertising art.
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But "Another Grey Morning" makes no bones about its intentions; it makes no effort to put on a happy front. It's about the effect of one person's depression on another, and Taylor's stirring imagery and singing evoke emotion rather than flatten it. In fact (not to get too academic), his use of gray rather than his traditional black and white signals a psychological and artistic breakthrough.

There are all kinds of evidence of that breakthrough on JT. The singing throughout is ringingly warm, the phrasing relaxed and intelligent. And the variety of material allows Taylor to span a broad emotional range. On Danny Kortchmar's seething "Honey Don't Leave L.A.," Taylor keys the song with his rough, authoritative reading of the line, "They don't know nothing down in St. Tropez." Taylor is actually a pretty convincing rock singer here, as he is on the album's unabashedly happy opener, "Your Smiling Face."

Taylor presses his luck occasionally, but at least he's taking risks. On "I Was Only Telling a Lie" he seems to be imitating Tom Rush's posturing lower register (as in "Who Do You Love?"), and his attempt to evoke a déclassé atmosphere in the same song ("half flat six-pack of lukewarm beer) is a little strained. Strained, too, is his gospel-jazz novelty, "Traffic Jam." Taylor tells us "how I hates to be late," not even realizing, I suspect, the meaning of the use of such archaic black idioms.

But the risk taking generally pays off. "Bartender's Blues" could have been a sendup of country & western were its chorus not so utterly convincing. And Taylor's remake of Jimmy Jones' mile-a-minute "Handy Man" is so unlikely that it vitiates the usual criticisms of Taylor's soul interpretations. Taylor's sensually slow version of "Handy Man" is a masterpiece of adaptation and singing. As an uptempo number it was slightly adolescent; through Taylor's gentle cooing the song becomes more overtly, and successfully, sexual.

JT is the least stiff and by far the most various album Taylor has done. That's not meant to criticize Taylor's earlier efforts -- I'm a fan of even his most dolorous work. But it's nice to hear him sounding so healthy.

- Peter Herbst, Rolling Stone, 8-11-77.

Bonus Reviews!

The laconically titled JT, James Taylor's new release on Columbia, is easily the best thing this singer/songwriter has done since Sweet Baby James seven long years -- and a pop lifetime -- ago. Taylor has always been one of the most persuasive composer/performers around, and he's in top form here. As in the past, his gentle, murmured lyric readings are at striking odds with his restless, edgy guitar playing and the sulphurous intent of so many of his song ideas. Plus, the whole album has an Already Arrived class about it that will appeal to the pop snob in all of us. (Some of this sense of class may be created by the packaging. Columbia apparently pulled out all budget stops in welcoming Taylor to the label; the result is that the album is so stunning graphically that JT may well become one of the year's chic coffee-table items.)

But James Taylor himself hasn't gone grand on us at all, not at all. He's still in there, lulling us with that intimate, cajoling voice, then jabbing unexpectedly with the left hook of some unpleasant reality. For instance, the heroine of "I Was Only Telling You a Lie" may have to go through a short period of readjustment once she realizes that her new boyfriend has set her up for a one-night stand: "Now baby when I told you that/ I love you/ I was only telling a lie/ I'll be long gone come the crack of dawn/ And I believe the word is/ Good-bye, bye baby, bye, bye." Sentimental chap, isn't he? But then most of Taylor's protagonists are existential, almost burnt-out cases who seem to accept the world about them rather wearily, from the disdainful bartender of "Bartender's Blues" to the hopeful, horny, but essentially gloomy young man of "Looking for Love on Broadway" (he knows he's not going to find ti) and the sexual confidence man of "If I Keep My Heart Out of Sight" ("If I play my role just right/ Tonight could be my lucky night/ And you could be mine").

Now, all of this unvarnished reality might be a downer if it weren't for the mysterious "X" factor in Taylor's performances. He doesn't seem to be telling these stories to punish, depress, or deflate us, but more to say that this is the way it is, and it's not all that bad, is it? And somehow, when he tells it, it isn't. Nor is it all just "Another Grey Morning" (one of his lesser efforts here), because he also does a really unbuttoned, funny "Handy Man," the old Otis Blackwell/Jimmy Jones gasper, and a slickly bitchy "Honey Don't Leave L.A.," Danny Kortchmer's caustic little ode to one of those status-conscious L.A. ladies. His own "Terra Nova," in which Carly Simon had a hand and in which she joins him, is a cloudless, joyful song that expresses a cheerful acceptance of the human condition. It is as spontaneously good-natured and unashamedly romantic as -- oh -- an Evelyn Waugh description of a country house. The production throughout (by Peter Asher, who has been associated with Taylor almost from the beginning of his career), is suave, sweatless, and generally just about as smooth as it can get.

Taylor remains the single artist in pop who can tell it like it is without sending you off either to the hills with a hatchet, a flint, and a hunting dog or straight to the nearest Disney movie. He is consistently entertaining without once losing sight of the realities of where, unfortunately, quite a lot of us seem to be at emotionally in the late Seventies.

- Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, 10/77.

Taylor makes his Columbia debut with some of his most commercially viable material in recent efforts. Yet he doesn't forsake the sensitivity and emotion that he manages to evoke in each tune. Most of the tunes are in the Taylor tradition: mellow, lightly swaying and serenely pleasant. He is also reunited with producer Peter Asher who guided him to many of his more well-remembered hits. Adding to the album's momentum is the single "Handy Man" which is racing up the charts. Wife Carly and Linda Ronstadt add supporting vocals. Best cuts: "Handy Man," "Terranova," "There We Are," "Your Smiling Face."

- Billboard, 1977.

Although he sometimes seems the kind of performer who would give diction lessons to the blues, this is Taylor's finest recording in several years: he handles "Handy Man" as he never could Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is," and his originals, while still dolorous, have more resilience than anything since Sweet Baby James. Almost rock & roll, and we like it.

- Rolling Stone, 7/28/77.

James sounds both awake -- worth a headline in itself -- and in touch; maybe CBS gave him a clock radio for opening an account there. "Handy Man" is a transcendent sex ballad, while "I Was Only Telling a Lie" and "Secret 'o Life" evoke comparisons with betters on the order of the Stones and Randy Newman, so that the wimpy stuff -- which still predominates -- sounds merely laid-back in contrast. Best since Sweet Baby James, shit -- some of this is so wry and lively and committed his real fans may find it obtrusive. B

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

The culmination of Taylor's recorded output, featuring fine compositions and restrained but expressive vocal readings. His folk/jazz/R&B derived pop productions perfectly showcase the direct appeal and strength of the material and are beautifully rendered. While every cut offers quality, the highlights include the hit, "Handy Man," as well as "Another Grey Morning," "Bartender's Blues," "Traffic Jam," "Terra Nova," and the simple but inordinately valid "Secret of Life." The sound of it all is little short of revelatory: remarkably clean, spacious, warm, intimate, and detailed. This is one of the best sounding pop discs available.A

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

The bad news is that by the time he switched to Columbia, Taylor had made the transition to craftsmanlike pop music, abandoning the shadows of his earlier work. The good news is that the Columbia work is so well crafted, forcing you to acknowledge what a good singer Taylor is. If the songs are less thoughtful, they are no less appealing as music. This is the best of six Columbia studio albums so far, but they're all of a piece. Good, easy listening. * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

One of his better mid-period albums, JT includes the sunny hit "Your Smiling Face," the requisite R&B cover "Handy Man" and the charming "Secret o' Life," plus "Bartender's Blues," which Taylor wrote for George Jones. * * * 1/2

- Daniel Durchholz, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

The singer's first album for his new record company, JT is an assertion, indeed a defence almost, of the "new" James Taylor, an artist who is full of the joys of spring and exuding an almost unfamiliar confidence.

Having established himself as one of the most respected and prominent US singer/songwriters, Taylor appears to want if not to exactly reinvent himself with his new employers, then at least illustrate another side to his talents. The upbeat numbers, such as "Honey Don't Leave LA" and "Your Smiling Face" reinforce this, while the slick production from long-time producer Peter Asher, and the retention of long-time backing musicians Danny Kortchmar (who penned "Honey Don't Leave LA), Russell Kunkel and Leland Sklar maintain the musical continuity.

There are still trademark Taylor tunes here, with ballads in "Secret O' Life" and "If I Keep My Heart Out Of Sight." The album's opener and a Number 20 hit in the US, "Your Smiling Face," is a declaration of love for singer Carly Simon, as is the record's second cut, "There We Are." Fans embraced the record, sending it to the Number Four position on the US album chart. The song "Handy Man" won Taylor a Grammy in the Best Pop Vocal Performance category.

As of 2004, JT was the #74 best-selling album of the 70s.

- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.

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