It’s a well-worn adage that certain artists have soundtracked people’s lives, but in the case of beloved US singer-songwriter, James Taylor, it’s one that rings very true.
“I’m a very self-centred songwriter,” he told The Guardian in February 2020. “I always have been. It’s the personal stuff I like, for better or for worse.”
That may well be the case but there’s clearly a universality in Taylor’s music – in his sensitive voice and wistful and winsome melodies and lyrics – that have connected deeply with his audience for decades and will make his forthcoming Australia and New Zealand tour a must-see for many fans (see full dates below).
Now 75, Taylor revels in touring and his band – featuring drummer Steve Gadd, fiddler Andrea Zonn, pianist Larry Goldings, sax player Lou Marini, keyboard/horn player Walt Fowler, guitarist Michael Landau, bassist Jimmy Johnson, percussion player Luis Conte, and vocalists Arnold McCuller, Kate Markowitz, Dorian Holley, and Taylor’s own son Henry – sees to it that he enjoys his own songs as much as ever.
“I’m still a road dog and happy to ride the bus and play the one-nighters,” he told the Las Vegas Sun back in May. “This band is my pride and joy and being able to have these world-famous players onstage, in a way, that’s the main accomplishment of my career, that I can hold this band together. Each of them has their own touring life, their own audience and body of work.”
Ahead of his visit to Australasia in 2024, here are five songs that have hallmarked Taylor’s distinguished career that we can hope to hear when he performs in Australia next year.
“Something in the Way She Moves”
If it sounds reminiscent of The Beatles, that’s because it is. Taylor flew to London in early 1968 with a contact for Peter Asher (brother of Paul McCartney’s girlfriend at the time, Jane Asher), who had started working as a talent scout for their new music label, Apple. Taylor auditioned in front of McCartney and George Harrison, playing “Something in the Way She Moves”, and was subsequently the first artist signed to the label. So impressed was Harrison he went onto borrow the song title for The Beatles’ hit, “Something”.
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“Fire and Rain”
It’s a song that springs from his own wells of darkness, but “Fire and Rain”‘s sad yet resilient themes have brought strength to so many during troubled times. Written about a childhood friend named Suzanne who took her own life, as well as being in the depths of heroin addiction and depression, the lines “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend” prompted close collaborator Carole King to write her iconic hit, “You’ve Got a Friend”.
“Sweet Baby James”
The titular opening track of his second album released in 1970, “Sweet Baby James” was written by Taylor for his nephew with whom he shared his first name. “I wrote it when I was driving back down to North Carolina to see my family after I’d been away for some amount of time,” Taylor explained in 2007.
“I’d been in England, I came back to see my family again and I was excited to see this first kid born, who was named after me. So I wrote this song in the form of a cowboy lullaby, like a Gene Autry or Roy Rogers lullaby. It means a lot to me personally. The first verse is for little James, the second verse is for big James – me – and then it goes from the specific, to the general, to the cosmic, and talks about the nature of belief and what makes you feel comfortable. The line is maybe you can believe it if it helps you go to sleep, but music works for me.”
“Carolina in My Mind”
The recording of “Carolina in My Mind” was done at London’s Trident Studios in mid-1968, the same time The Beatles were there recording what became the White Album. As such it features Paul McCartney on bass and George Harrison on backing vocals, although the latter was not credited. While it was all happening for Taylor during this period in London, he was depressed and homesick and the song pays heed to that fact.
Released in 1969, the single failed to make an impact on the US or UK charts and was later re-released in the wake of the success of the Sweet Baby James album in late 1970. “Carolina in My Mind” truly became a staple of Taylor’s catalogue when it appeared on his diamond-selling 1976 Greatest Hits release, albeit in re-recorded form due to clearance issues with Apple.
“Her Town Too”
A song co-written by Taylor, Waddy Wachtel and J.D. Souther and released as a duet with the latter in 1981, “Her Town Too” reflects on the aftermath of a broken relationship. At the time Taylor was in the midst of a divorce from singer-songwriter Carly Simon, but he has always maintained that the song was about a mutual friend. Unsurprisingly, the theme of the song has resonated throughout the last four decades.
An Evening With James Taylor & His All-Star Band
With special guests Josh Pyke and Ella Hooper
Kings Park & Botanic Garden, WA
Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, VIC
Entertainment Centre, Adelaide, SA
April 21st (A Day on the Green)
Sirromet Wines, Mt Cotton, QLD
Aware Super Theatre, Sydney, NSW
April 27th (A Day on the Green)
Bimbadgen, Hunter Valley, NSW
April 28th (A Day on the Green)
Centennial Vineyards, Bowral, NSW
Spark Arena, Auckland, NZ
TSB Arena, Wellington, NZ