The One Man Band tour took James Taylor on the road for three years of unusually intimate performances, even by the standards of the guitar-wielding troubadour. In 2007, the tour culminated in a series of shows at Pittsfield, Massachusetts’ small, 775-seat Colonial Theatre, a true homecoming for the famous Massachusetts native. Joined only by keyboardist Larry Goldings, Taylor treated audiences to a tour through his songbook that amounted to a master class in musical storytelling. The live album documenting the small-scale yet mightily moving Pittsfield concerts has now been reissued as a 2-LP, 180-gram vinyl set from Craft Recordings, following recent, stellar releases from Craft sister imprint Analog Spark of Taylor’s Columbia albums New Moon Shine, Hourglass and October Road.
It’s only appropriate that the One Man Band concert opened with “Something in the Way She Moves,” the song that secured Taylor his first record contract for The Beatles’ Apple Records – and the song that inspired one of Beatle George’s own greatest compositions. Spare, understated, and beautiful, “Something in the Way She Moves” set the tone for Taylor’s career. On One Man Band, it similarly sets the stage for the intimate set of 19 career-spanning classics reflecting on the human experience with melancholy and hope hand-in-hand.
A Taylor concert is like a visit with an old friend – reassuring, warm, and sure to spark countless memories. The connection between artist and audience is palpable even on the most familiar of the tunes including Carole King’s still-touching “You’ve Got a Friend,” the inevitable, elegiac “Fire and Rain,” the tender lullaby “Sweet Baby James,” and the heartfelt “You Can Close Your Eyes.” Taylor conjures up his own past – and by extension, that of the audience – on the affecting “Carolina in My Mind.” Most of his greatest hits are here, notably save for covers of King and Gerry Goffin’s “Up on the Roof” and Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You).”
Taylor, now comfortably wearing the skin of a sage survivor, is at his best when imparting observational songs like “Never Die Young” (from the point of view of an older man looking at two young people who might still avoid the troubles his life has seen), sharing the hard-won wisdom of “Secret o’ Life,” or making the low-key, open-hearted plea to “Shower the People” with love. Alongside pearls such as these, the spoofy “Steamroller Blues” is a bit of a trifle, but the song once covered by Elvis Presley thrives in the live setting. The ruminative lyrics of “Line ‘Em Up” take on new resonance when divorced from the radio-friendly sheen of the original Hourglass recording.
The setlist as heard on the LP is also peppered with latter-day favorites like “The Frozen Man,” inspired by a National Geographic article, or the politically-charged New Moon Shine deep cut “Slap Leather,” on which a drum machine is employed to thicken the rhythmic sound. Drums recur on the goofy “Chili Dog.” The pre-recorded Tanglewood Festival Chorus joins Taylor on “Shower the People” and October Road‘s “My Traveling Star.”
His guitar as recognizable an element of his sound as his voice, one might think Taylor could make it as a true “one man band.” But he wisely enlisted Larry Goldings, whose presence here shouldn’t be underestimated as he often accompanies with one hand and plays the bass part with his left. (In the liner notes reprinted from the original release, Taylor describes Goldings as “my one man band.” In addition to playing the instrumental “School Song” early in the concert, his sympathetic, sensitive accompaniment on piano, synthesizer, organ, and harmonium throughout expands Taylor’s sound considerably and draws attention to the timeless craft of the songwriting. “The Frozen Man” or “Shower the People” gain stately piano introductions, while the Great American Songbook-influenced “Mean Old Man” leads to a tasty solo.
In any setting, James Taylor remains a national treasure, an artist whose deceptively simple ballads and unassuming stage persona are too often taken for granted. Craft’s vinyl premiere of One Man Band is handsomely packaged in a gatefold sleeve and subtly remastered on quiet black vinyl by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound. The format is ideally suited to this you are there, intimate, live document. It’s a timely reminder of the singer-songwriter’s powerful gift of connection, one which endures to the present day. Indeed, the Berkshires never sounded so dreamlike.