Just moments into his headlining appearance last night at Blossom Music Center, James Taylor shared the story behind his opening number, “Something In the Way She Moves.” He recalled playing the song for Paul McCartney and George Harrison in a small room in London in 1968 at a time when they had just started Apple Records and were looking for new artists to sign. His performance would get him a recording deal with Apple and after all of these years, “Something In the Way She Moves” remains a song that Taylor often opens with, because as he shared, it’s one that he knows that he can do well, even if he’s nervous. The experience of playing it for McCartney and Harrison taught him that if he could pull it off there in front of two people that he had such immense respect for, well then, he certainly could make it happen anywhere else.
It was endearing, hearing the legendary singer-songwriter hint at insecurities that still remain present even now after his many decades as a performer. During a set that stretched well beyond two hours with a short intermission, Taylor would add additional layers to some of his best-known songs, sharing stories behind the creation process and the inspirations that fed into the material.
There’s often a connection between nature and spirituality in Taylor’s music that, as he acknowledged, “I seem to keep coming back to.” He jokingly calling it “hippie kind of bullshit.” He’s still mining those threads as he works on an album of new material, which would be his first album of new songs since 2002’s October Road. “Today, Today, Today” was one of the promising new songs that was previewed during the Blossom show, which he described as “a song about beginnings that will probably kick off the new album.”
Taylor’s work on the Covers album in 2008 seems to have been a healthy exercise that has brought about a reexamination of his own catalog. In addition to the usual hits, he dug deeper, pulling out album tracks like “Lo and Behold” from 1970’s Sweet Baby James and “One More Go Round,” a funky number from 1991’s New Moon Shine.
On the latter, Taylor and his band really had the chance to cut loose and fully demonstrate their chops, something that might have been an eye-opener for those who perceive him primarily as a mellow acoustic singer-songwriter. In recent years, Taylor has billed the band as his “All Star Band” and that’s certainly no hype, when you consider that he’s got guys in his lineup like drummer Steve Gadd, guitarist Michael Landau, percussionist Luis Conte and legendary Blues Brothers player “Blue” Lou Marini, who would play a variety of instruments from saxophone to the flute and pennywhistle.
These are guys who have inked their name in the liner notes for countless albums across the decades and working in Taylor’s band, they brought a unified versatility that could answer musically with the right energy and tone, depending on what each song required. With ten players onstage to help him flesh things out (including three background vocalists, one of whom was singer Arnold McCuller, a Cleveland native and longtime member of Taylor’s band, who will play his own solo show at Nighttown on August 16), Taylor was well-equipped to faithfully reproduce any song from his catalog.
Prior to a performance of the now-classic “Millworker,” Taylor explained how the song was written as part of a ‘70s Broadway musical called Working, which as he quipped, “it didn’t.” The musical ran for five days on Broadway. Composer Stephen Schwartz had done Godspell (and would later do Wicked), so Taylor figured he was about to be part of something big, but as he shared, things didn’t quite work out that way. “Everybody strikes out once in a while and I had to show up for that one.”
Today, it’s his songs which continue to show up, forever embedded in the memories of many, something that was evident looking at the crowd that came to Blossom to hear Taylor. While it was a crowd that was predominantly older, there were plenty of young — and younger faces in the audience as well. Just like the music of the Beatles, who once offered so much inspiration to Taylor in his younger days, it is now his own music that has become timeless and on a warm summer evening at Blossom, it was awfully nice to spend just a bit of time looking back.