With volume one a perennial bestseller, it was only a matter of time before James Taylor’s label went for the complementary sequel. While every song on the first collection is arguably an enduring light rock classic, the ratio of dross to gloss is a bit higher this time around.
The years documented here cover 1977’s JT to 1997’s Hourglass, a period of diminishing returns for the easygoing singer-songwriter. There are still plenty of instantly recognizable hit songs, from “Handy Man”, and, “Your Smiling Face”, to “Her Town Too”, but there are also forgettable versions of hits by others. Taylor’s quietly expressive voice smoothes out the creases in such chestnuts as “Up On the Roof”, and “Everyday”, without adding much more than a Muzak-ed reinterpretation.
The most rewarding songs here are the less familiar, like, “Only a Dream In Rio”, from 1985’s That’s Why I’m Here, which incorporates Brazilian textures into a lushly arranged, dreamlike tune. Taylor’s latent blues tendencies, which blazed forth on volume one’s “Steamroller”, are less apparent but still in evidence on songs like the horn-fueled jump blues, “(I’ve Got To) Stop Thinkin’ ‘Bout That”, which comes from 1991’s underrated New Moon Shine. That album is also represented by what is perhaps the best song on this collection, “Copperline”. A model arrangement that entwines acoustic instruments around synthesized keyboards lends a textured feel to the tune which supports the lyric of times gone by which Taylor has gone back to again and again since “Fire & Rain”, but rarely with such success as here.
Lauded and loathed for what by now sounds like a smooth adult folk-pop formula, the “Greatest” of these hits are still worthy of a listen or two, even 30 years after he first sang, “You’ve Got a Friend”.
// Notes from the Road
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