Saturday, January 14, 2012

Michael Fremer Album Review


James Taylor

Columbia/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-354 180LP/SACD

Produced by: Peter Asher

Engineered by: Val Garay

Mixed by: Val Garay

Mastered by: Krieg Wunderlich, assisted by Rob LoVerde



Mobile Fidelity Freshens Up a Classic
by Michael Fremer
December 01, 2011

Cleaned up, hair cut, even shown bowling in the gatefold photo layout, James Taylor, many felt at the time, had clearly sold out to corporate America by signing with Columbia Records. By 1977 his long hair, hippie days were over and so were ours, but many diehards resented the slick shift and were appalled by the whole thing, starting with the cover photo.

But once the stylus dropped in the lead-in groove, it was obvious that the label shift and image change had produced a musically and emotionally re-invigorated James Taylor, one that was able to maintain his former sensibilities while surrounding himself with a less folky, more pop/funky/electrified musical backdrop. You might even say it glows with the bell-toned Fender-Rhodes keyboard sound.

JT went on to become a multi-platinum selling hit and Taylor's biggest since his break-out album Sweet Baby James. True it's a fairly slick-sounding affair despite Taylor's use of many of his long-time cohorts like Danny Kortchmar, Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel. Taylor's subject matter is sunnier and less self-absorbed. In "Looking For Love" he says he's had enough of self-pity.

He's downright exuberant singing to his girlfriend on the opener, "You're Smiling Face." Between that and "The Secret Of Life," his positive affirmation in which he lets listeners know he's figured it out how to live a satisfied, meaningful life that will allow him to age gracefully.

Obviously, the decades since show that he's lived his own advice. In fact sometimes you just wish he'd take that shit-eating grin off his face and show some emotion!

Side two opens with a reverential, string-drenched take on "Handy Man" that surprised and delighted consumers of the raucous original. There's the backstreet slink of "I Was Only Telling a Lie" that sounds more like something Bowie, Marc Bolan or Humble Pie could have come up with.

The hymnal, Paul Simon-ish "Terra Nova" remains one of Taylor's most beautiful and positive songs with backing by Carly Simon, whose multivoice coda remains memorable . Thankfully "Traffic Jam," an overly cute "gospel/rap" by way of The Coasters with a global warming message well ahead of its time is but a short detour to the love song finale, "If I Keep My Heart," which sounds more like a black r&b ballad than one by a folkie.

Well, a former folkie. This record propelled Taylor far beyond his guitar based folk music and he never looked back. It's success and the new image he'd created for himself removed all boundaries to his stylistic wanderings.

While the production may sound a bit slick, it's such sweet ear candy, you won't care. Val Garay gets the instruments remarkably well separated in space and give you a kick drum and electric bass you can latch onto and ride. All of the instruments receive the same clean, unprocessed treatment and as good as the original Columbia pressing was, Mobile Fidelity does it even better, striking the perfect balance between warmth and clarity. The original's dynamics can't match this edition.

There's plenty worth listening in on within these mixes and the mastering and pressing open a transparent, revealing window onto the action.

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material. Stop by for more reviews and features.

©2011 & Michael Fremer - - All rights reserved

Reprinted by Permission

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