Synonymous with the early 1970s is the singer-songwriter, whether it be guitar or piano based. Today we encounter one of the best ever, James Taylor, on his second album, “Sweet Baby James”. Well received, this album is rated #182 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Like most of his music, it is acoustic based and fairly mellow, but I think James sets himself above his peers with his ability to mix it up with some blues and rock and roll blended in with his folk country rock core. The album opens with the title track, “Sweet Baby James”, a perfect introduction to the James Taylor sound. Next comes “Lo and Behold”, with a bluesier edge. “Sunny Skies” is almost too happy, but again classic Taylor. Other highlights across the album include “Country Road”, a great song that features Carole King on piano. The two of them would work frequently together during these years. Randy Meisner, an original member of the Eagles, also appears on some of the songs on bass.
The standout track of this album is “Fire and Rain”, an all-time James Taylor classic which is one of his best songs ever. I see some similarities in this song and Elton John’s first big hit, “Your Song”. Both served to carve their identities as top-shelf songwriters from their earliest debuts. That song is preceded by his arrangement of the traditional folk song, “Oh, Susannah”.
Overall, like most James Taylor music, this is the definition of easy listening, but I find it more interesting and compelling than some of his peers like Dan Fogelberg. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to see James Taylor live at Red Rocks on my birthday, a perfect night I won’t forget anytime soon. His music is perfect to fill the hills and mountain air on a warm summer night.