Analog Spark has had a busy summer. The label contributed a number of exclusive releases to Barnes and Noble, including stellar reissues of the classic Broadway cast recordings to Hello, Dolly! (1964, RCA), Cabaret (Columbia, 1966) and Hair (RCA, 1969) as well as Dave Brubeck’s delightful Dave Digs Disney (Columbia, 1957) in its original mono mix. The vinyl specialists have recently turned their attention to a title of a more modern vintage from a venerable American troubadour, James Taylor. His platinum 1991 Columbia album New Moon Shine has gotten the Analog Spark treatment for its American vinyl premiere, shedding welcome light on one of his later gems. (Believe it or not, Taylor has only released five studio LPs since New Moon Shine, only three of which featured original material.) It comfortably follows the contours of Taylor’s finest work, offering up well-crafted compositions revolving around both the personal and the political.
New Moon Shine may be best remembered for its opening track, the top 20 AC hit “Copperline.” Co-written by Taylor and Reynolds Price, it bore all of the hallmarks of Taylor’s style. Intimacy and gentility enveloped the listener for a nostalgic but clear-eyed look back at the singer’s childhood in North Carolina, complete with mentions of his old street (Morgan Creek Road) and canine friend (Hercules). Producer Don Grolnick surrounded the artist and his acoustic guitar with an ace rhythm section including Michael Landau on electric guitar, Jimmy Johnson on bass, Grolnick on keys, Clifford Carter on synthesizer, and Carlos Vega on drums, while various guests brought their own flourishes to individual tracks. Naturally, the warmth of vinyl is particularly suited to Taylor’s brand of pop-rock, and Analog Spark’s quiet, audiophile-standard pressing serves the music well.
“Down in the Hole” empathetically observes the plight of those working in the titular subterranean environs before casting its net far wider: “I’m in a hole/Since I lost my baby/I’m in a hole/Since I lost my girl…” In some respects, it plays like a companion to Taylor’s beautiful “Millworker” which had been written for the Broadway musical Working and was included on the artist’s album Flag. Taylor’s concern for his fellow men is also manifested on “Shed a Little Light,” which begins with the plea to “Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King/And recognize that there are ties between us…” It’s an earnest, appealing soft rock-meets-gospel paean to sister and brotherhood, as the song goes, with a message that’s arguably more needed today than ever. Despite its rollicking rockabilly style, “Slap Leather” offers some of the LP’s most pointed political commentary.
The gorgeous character study “Like Everyone She Knows” is quintessential Taylor from its very first acoustic chords. (The ballad got as far as No. 31 on the AC chart.) Branford Marsalis provided its sensitive soprano saxophone solo. “Oh Brother” has Taylor and his vocal chorus offering up a dose of positivity and kindness. Ever a spellbinding storyteller, Taylor compellingly told the tale of “The Frozen Man,” imagining a man born in 1843 and resuscitated a century later, and painted a portrait of a returned veteran in “Native Son.” The singer-songwriter’s lighter side was indulged on the lightly funky “One More Go Round,” and a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Everybody Loves to Cha-Cha-Cha” which hit the AC top 20.
Guitarist Danny Kortchmar, co-producer of “The Frozen Man,” also joined Grolnick to helm another top 30 AC hit, “(I’ve Got To) Stop Thinkin’ ‘Bout That,” which he co-wrote with his old friend Taylor. The uptempo country-flecked tune got a shot of adrenaline from a horn section consisting of Bob Mintzer on tenor saxophone, Randy Brecker on trumpet, and Dave Bargeron on trombone. The traditional Scottish folk song “The Water is Wide” closed out the album on a soft, lovely note.
Analog Spark’s reissue has been pressed on 180-gram vinyl, and is housed in a Stoughton-printed, sturdy tip-on jacket with a credit and lyric sheet inserted. Ryan K. Smith has beautifully remastered and cut this edition, and crisp, precise musical detail is evident throughout. James Taylor has remained true to himself for decade after decade; listening to the eclectic yet completely familiar New Moon Shine, one can’t help but marvel at his craft and consistency.