James Taylor's 15th studio album of his first new recordings in 32 years is, if possible, even more familiar and self-referential than ever. By now, it is an article of faith that you could take practically any track from any Taylor album and put it on another one without disturbing the mood, and that is as true of the songs here as it is of those on the other 14. That warm (if slightly deepened) tenor, singing in its odd accent which combines New England and the North Carolina Piedmont, and that acoustic guitar, with its sparkling, unhurried fingerpicking, remain the most prominent elements in the sound. But even more, October Road finds Taylor seemingly intent on evoking his own past. The title track, of course, recalls his song "Country Road," and "Caroline I See You," (even if it refers specifically to his wife), inescapably echoes "Carolina in My Mind." Also, Taylor deliberately recycles themes from his earlier work. "October Road" begins, "Well I'm going back down maybe one more time," while "My Traveling Star" ends, "And shame on me for sure/For one more highway song." Throughout, on what seem like the most personal songs he has written in decades, Taylor appears to be commenting on a second chance he feels he has received, and though he couches the negative aspects in humor ("Mean Old Man," whose subject is the singer, ends with a dog joke, and "Raised Up Family," which contains recriminations, tosses in a musical reference to Gilligan's Island), there are strong hints of a man who feels he's been rescued. As such, it is perhaps fitting (if seasonally curious for an album released in the summer) to conclude with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," a holiday song from wartime that reaffirms the importance of family in a world gone awry.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann