Esoteric in the best way
From the December, 2019 issue
Like Sherlock Holmes, James Taylor has an arguably smarter brother, Livingston, two and a half years younger. He had a few songs that rattled around the bottom of the top 100 in the 1970s, but he never approached James' chart success. That's because he's a whole different animal. His voice and his general bag of 1970s song styles instantly mark him as part of the same family and the same era as James and the other Taylor siblings, but his execution of those styles is more intricate and challenging. He has said that the two brothers admire each other but neither would want the other's career.
A simple tune is within his capabilities, but many of Livingston Taylor's songs are intricate indeed. He's one of few songwriters capable of complexity in both music and lyrics, and his structures cohere at a very high level. Sometimes his craft is deployed toward humorous ends, and he's quite an amusing storyteller, with an accent that draws equally on his Boston background and his North Carolina origins.
Most often, his subject is love. It takes a bit of an adjustment, in the present ironic age, to appreciate titles like "Loving Be My New Horizon" and the really elegant "Lost in the Love of You," but it's an adjustment worth making. Taylor brings the depth of a Sondheim to his love songs.
He also does a variety of covers, among them some fine specimens of the Broadway show tune (although never Sondheim, to my knowledge). But there's nothing nostalgic about his treatments, and his song selections range widely: Harold Arlen, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles--he is one of the few who can make Beatles songs his own--Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil.
Taylor has played the Ark periodically for many years, and the club is a great place for the focus his songs require. They are worked out in such detail that they are sometimes a bit esoteric, but esoteric in the best way. Taylor, now tuxedo-clad and as likely to play the piano as a guitar, is turning seventy soon, and this might be his last area show. He comes to the Ark December 7, with songwriter Rebecca Loebe as the opening act.
[Originally published in December, 2019.]
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