It's been a good 20 years since Sweet Baby James became Sweet Bald James, but James Taylor remains a boomer favorite, no matter how predictable his shows or how languorous his vocals. His latest recording is of the guest variety: He sings his own "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" and the Hoagy Carmichael-Duke Ellington tune "The Nearness of You" on tenor saxman Michael Brecker's Nearness of You
, a polite, extraordinarily well-performed recording produced by aging guitar wunderkind Pat Metheny. Taylor's vocals are as comfortable as an old shoe and about as challenging; while his phrasing is so elastic as to be daring, the emotion he invests in the songs is subdued, to put it mildly. And putting it mildly has been Taylor's stock-in-trade since 1969, the year he released his eponymous debut. Like his records through the '70s and '80s, it was introspective, intelligent, and gently subversive. It also almost single-handedly gave rise to the singer-songwriter genre, also personified by Jackson Browne (absent from relevance these many years) and Warren Zevon (reduced to giving solo acoustic shows). Taylor, meanwhile, is a perennial favorite at summer festivals. You can count on a thoroughly professional, expertly paced show, because Taylor, who released his last studio album four years ago, has always hired the best, including background singers David Lasley and Valerie Carter and such instrumental magicians as saxman/flutist Lou Marini and percussionist Russ Kunkel. Like such other nostalgia magnets as Chicago and the Beach Boys, the avuncular Taylor can zing the heartstrings. "Fire and Rain," "Sweet Baby James," "Steamroller Blues," and "You've Got a Friend" are guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye.