James Taylor

A Few Useful Tips About Living Underground

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AllMusic Review by Glenn Swan

The mostly instrumental albums of British keyboardist James Taylor are as diverse as they are accomplished, running the spectrum between skinny-necktie '60s (The Money Spyder) and contemporary jazz (In the Hand of the Inevitable). This time he hits an especially satisfying nostalgic niche: a faithful jazz-rock fusion that hearkens back to the classic '70s TV cop shows and the high standards of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, and various other sorely missed demi-gods of the genre. Taylor lays triple-thick hot fudge on most of the tracks in (A Few Useful Tips About) Living Underground -- the original (and superior) import version of the album that would later become the U.S. release Creation, trading out a few tracks along the way. "Selectivity" crashes through the speakers with polished brass arrangements, congas, and rhythm guitar, and "Creation (Fanfare for a Third Millennium)" belts out fantastic energy, with blistering keyboard solos on the Hammond B-3. "Staying Active" only adds fuel to the fire, an up-tempo and relentless show-stopper that makes the ears sweat. "It's Your World" is a groovy, soulful stroll along a Malibu sunset, and "The Theme From Dirty Harry" turns Lalo Schifrin's original score into a relentless chase with burning flute solos and Latin jazz pounding through the veins. "Summer Fantasy" features a synth melody line cruising the streets in the spirit of Chuck Mangione as an undercover vigilante with great sideburns. "Check It Out" is a celebration in clich├ęs -- a low-rider Cadillac stuffed with gold chains, fur coats, lovely ladies, turntable scratches, and the spirit of Bootsy Collins at the wheel -- even stiff necks will loosen up as the groove chugs along. Here, there, and almost everywhere, Taylor's production values are crisp without being dry, striking the perfect balance between yesterday's live improvisational energy and today's front-row center-stage acoustics. With solid musicianship at every turn and a commitment to excellence, this album is delightfully retro without being a joke. Simply put, it makes you feel good.

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