Monday, March 21, 2011

Best of the Vault: James Taylor Concert Fillmore East New York Jan 25, 1971

James Taylor

Concert Summary

James Taylor - guitar, piano, vocals
Danny Kortchmar - guitar
Leland Sklar - bass
Russ Kunkel - drums

One couldn't ask for more from a live vintage James Taylor recording. Not only are the recordings themselves excellent quality, but these two benefit concerts capture Taylor right smack dab in the middle of the Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon LP recording sessions. James mentions that the proceeds from these benefits would be directed toward American Indian related charities. This is 1970, awhile before "Native American" became politically correct.

As with the late show, this early set begins solo acoustic. Taylor later mentions that Paul McCartney is in the audience, which may account for opening this set with The Beatles' "With A Little Help From My Friends." The recording begins with this song already in progress. "Something In The Way She Moves" and "Carolina In My Mind," both songs from Taylor's Apple Records album, are also included in this set. This is likely the debut performance of "Long Ago and Far Away." "Blossom," from his Sweet Baby James album, is also performed.

The show gets a bit more intimate as James discusses his early childhood in North Carolina and then noodles around on the first song he ever learned - a 1951 Snuff commercial heard on the radio. Then it's a 180 degree turn into a contemplative instrumental, "Greensleeves," which showcases Taylor's remarkably fluid acoustic guitar playing and impeccable arranging skill as it transitions directly into "Sunny Skies."

Following a nod to the Carter Family with a take on "Diamond Joe" and another humorous ditty about Coca-Cola, the rhythm section of Sklar and Kunkel join in, before Danny Kortchmar takes the stage. Unlike the late show recording, here we get to enjoy some electric music as Taylor and Kortchmar plug in for the set closer, "Steamroller Blues." This is a wonderful arrangement and considerably more exciting than the Sweet Baby James LP version. This begins with Taylor playing the first few verses solo before the band kicks in. Flawless ensemble playing and delicious lead guitar work from Kortchmar bring the set to a close.

The encore begins with more of the same as Taylor and the group rock out on "Night Owl." The band exits but James continues with a gorgeous take of "You Can Close Your Eyes," another song destined for Mud Slide Slim before ending this memorable night with "Sweet Baby James."

The fact that this night was right in the middle of the recording sessions for the Mud Slide Slim LP makes this concert indispensable. That album would earn Taylor Grammies for Best Male Vocal Performance and Song of the Year. Six months later, he'd be sitting at Billboard's #1 spot for his single release of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend."|3152

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