James Taylor - vocals, guitar; Guest: Carole King - vocals, piano
In 1970, James Taylor helped lead the singer-songwriter movement that was being eagerly embraced by an America much in need of reassurance, with so much domestic upheaval going on throughout the country. With his breakthrough album Sweet Baby James, released earlier this year, Taylor proved remarkably adept at channeling deep emotional currents constructively for the purposes of songwriting, transforming his previous struggles with heroin addiction and mental health into wistful but beautiful compositions.
Caught here at the intimate Berkeley Community Theatre, Taylor delivers a fresh and moving performance interspersed with light conversation toward a responsive crowd. Armed with only an acoustic guitar and his affecting voice, Taylor delivers a poignant set; his introspective tunes seem to go over especially well in this type of setting. The show is a stunning testament to Taylor's uncanny ability to translate his soothing songs before a live audience.
The setlist is full of some of Taylor's most moving, popular compositions - most from Sweet Baby James, and a few from his self-titled debut LP. One of the unquestionable high points of the set comes when Taylor introduces his friend and collaborator Carole King for a duet performance of "Up On The Roof." Other highlights include the wistful "Carolina In My Mind" and the humorous Merle Haggard cover "Okie From Muskogee." Refined live renditions of favorites "Country Road" and "Sweet Baby James" are not forgotten. The set ends with "Fire And Rain," Taylor's cathartic song about his stint in a mental institution.
Say what you want about Taylor's smooth and soothing, mellow style, but only a number of other musicians have been able to compose songs as personally revelatory and emotionally affecting as he; much like the so-called "confessional" post-war poets writing more or less contemporaneously, Taylor lays his heart out on the page, then gently holds it up in song - all with an honesty and courage that are nothing short of admirable.