James Taylor

The Best of James Taylor [2003]

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To compile a comprehensive one-disc best-of James Taylor album is a daunting task in and of itself. To compile it from material from three labels is a gutsy thing for David McLees and Warner Bros. to do and expect to make fans -- let alone pompous critics (no exception here) -- happy. Over 20 tracks, Warner has succeeded -- with full cooperation from Taylor, who wrote the liner notes -- in giving an accurate representation of the songwriter, who has survived and even flourished for over 35 years in the music biz. More importantly, they've displayed the great range of the artist as a songwriter of purpose, humanity, and empathy, an artist who has never placed himself above his audience. The album kicks off with "Something in the Way She Moves" from his only release for the Beatles' Apple imprint, and moves to the Warner material that covers the years 1969-1976, many would argue his greatest years. It's strange how songs like "Fire and Rain," "Country Road" (the 45 version), "Mexico," "Walking Man," and "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" do not seem to age; they feel as immediate and relevant in the 21st century as they did in the 1970s. And who can forget Taylor's version of "You've Got a Friend," with the searing backing vocal from Joni Mitchell? The producers also chose for inclusion here the 1976 version of "Carolina on My Mind" and the live take of "Steamroller" from the first Taylor Warner hits compilation in 1976 -- it's now the only way to get these tracks. From the Columbia years there are only five tracks. Two from JT ("Handy Man" and "Your Smiling Face"), his unforgettable read of the Goffin/King classic "Up on the Roof" from Flag, and "Only a Dream in Rio" from That's Why I'm Here. Some would argue with this one as opposed to something from Hourglass, but it's a small, nearly insignificant complaint. There is also a new recording here, "Bittersweet," finished just before release with Taylor's new band, that is a nice icing on the cake, but, to be a critic about the whole thing, this writer would have preferred they include "Anywhere Like Heaven" from Sweet Baby James instead -- another miniscule complaint. This is one of the most accurate and representative best-of packages to come down the line in a long time.

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