Monday, September 19, 2011

Music Review: James Taylor-Sweet Baby James

Article first published as Music Review: James Taylor - Sweet Baby James [Audio Fidelity 24K+ Gold] on Blogcritics.

For those of us whose vinyl copies of James Taylor's triple platinum 1970 album Sweet Baby James have been worn out with use, Audio Fidelity has released a limited numbered edition of the masterpiece in their 24K+ Gold Compact Disc Series which uses a unique process to create the kind of warm sound many feel has been lost on today's standard disc. As they describe the process, they use the original mixes to create what they consider the best versions of each song to produce a disc with a 24 karat defect free gold surface. It is a disc with the kind of excellent sound in general that will thrill both Taylor aficionados and audiophiles as well. Of course there are likely to be those that never even open the shrink wrap on this deluxe edition in its see through packaging in the hopes that albums in pristine condition will command a good price on some future collectibles market. After all, the discs are numbered.

On the other hand, those who stow it away will be missing a fine listening experience. The album, honored as the 103rd on the Rolling Stone list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time," shows Taylor at his emotional best. Not only is it filled with songs that were to put the mellow singer on the charts, they were written with an honest personal intensity that went beyond mere artifice. "Fire and Rain," the album's break out single, is a clear illustration. In interviews Taylor has said that the song is about his experiences in mental institutions dealing with depression. While his statements about the causes of that depression differ, it is impossible to escape the essential emotional truthfulness of the song.

Add to this a song list that includes "Steamroller," "Lo and Behold," "Blossom," "Country Road" and "Oh Susannah" and you've got an album that deserves everyone of its many accolades. And that doesn't even include my own personal favorite, the brilliant faux folk lullaby that serves as the album's title. It is a song that describes as well as any the essence of Taylor's music: a "song which is soft but it's clear/As if maybe someone could hear." Maybe if it helps you to sleep you can believe it. It is the music of maybe, the music of uncertainty. While it is marked with that sweet melancholy that marks so much of the singer's work, "Sweet Baby James" is one of those songs that echoes in your ear and never grows old.

But in the end, Taylor doesn't need me to say nice things about this album; it has had more than enough praise piled on it as it goes into its fifth decade. It is a welcome addition to the Audio Fidelity gold catalogue, where by the way it joins with new releases of his albums One Man Dog and Walking Man as well as Carly Simon's No Secrets.

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