Music review: James Taylor's first album in 13 years is worth the wait

 James Taylor
James Taylor PHOTO: UNIVERSAL MUSIC SINGAPORE

The original J.T. (move aside, Justin Timberlake) is back with his first album in 13 years.

It is the longest Americana icon James Taylor has gone without putting on a full-length release of new tunes and the hiatus has not changed him in any way. The Massachusetts native is still the quintessential American troubadour, pondering on the seasons, family, the country's vast landscape and baseball.

The years have been kind to the 67-year-old multiple Grammy winner - his voice is still warm and mellifluous, his smooth baritone not too different from his early days of being the star artist favoured by the Beatles.

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    BEFORE THIS WORLD

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He ruminates on the passing of time on Before This World/Jolly Springtime, which features Sting on backing vocals. "Let the day run long/ Let the river run high/That tomorrow may live/So must yesterday die," Taylor sings.

On You And I Again, which features another superstar, Yo-Yo Ma, on cello, he is longing for the familiarity of the past: "You and I again, these days go by/And I wish that I could slow the whole thing down/ Have it all back again, just one more time."

It is a homely theme which is reflected in the album cover - Taylor is seen standing against a classic green Ford truck, apparently the kind which does home food deliveries in the Massachusetts country.

Like many of his peers, he taps into the conscience of America, zooming in on the country's overseas military campaigns in Afghanistan.

Instead of being a jingoistic jingle for the battle-ready, the tune is a thoughtful contemplation on what happens when you take a soldier out of Indiana to the hills of Kandahar.

Backed by subtle marching drums, he sings: "I was ready to be terrified and ready to be mad, I was ready to be homesick, the worst I've ever had, I expected to be hated and insulted to my face/But nothing could prepare me for the beauty of the place."

Apart from a couple of lightweight moments (Angels Of Fenway is a melodramatic ode to his beloved Boston Red Sox baseball team and Stretch Of Highway is an adult contemporary downer as Taylor's voice lacks the heft for a driving R&B tune), his newest collection of works is mellow, pastoral and soothing, a cosy blanket which lulls you with its sweet songcraft.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2015, with the headline 'First album in 13 years worth the wait'. Print Edition | Subscribe