James Taylor - vocals, acoustic guitar
Recorded shortly after the release of James Taylor's sixth album, Gorilla, these concerts were re-election benefits for Massachusetts Congressman Gerry Studds. An afternoon and evening show was presented, each featuring two sets by Taylor, with the Congressman addressing the audience between Taylor's sets. Taylor had recently completed his summer tour and had returned home to Martha's Vineyard a few weeks prior. His most recent albums, 1974's Walking Man and 1975's Gorilla, both showcased his more electric side, with the latter spawning two big hits, "Mexico" and his cover of Marvin Gaye's classic, "How Sweet It Is." On tour, he had been accompanied by his outstanding band, performing in large venues across North America. With that in mind, these performances are all the more special, as both are full length concerts performed entirely solo acoustic, something he had not done for some time. Performing before a relatively local audience, these concerts find Taylor in a relaxed mood, essentially playing before friends and neighbors. This brings out a thoroughly engaging performance that touches on every phase of his career up until that point and features many of his most beloved songs, both old and new. All six of his albums are represented over the course of this intimate evening and while the older classics sound as good as ever, it is often the newer material, stripped down to just acoustic guitar and vocals, that are the most intriguing.
The first set of the afternoon show kicks off with "One Man Parade." Immediately engaging and stripped down to its essence, this reveals what a fine acoustic guitar player Taylor really is. Venturing back to his 1968 Apple Records debut, he follows with a lovely "Brighten Your Night With My Day," proving that he had a knack for writing distinctive melodies early on. Following a humorous bluesy little ditty for Coca Cola, the audience was treated to a true rarity, "I Can Dream Of You." This is an introspective song written by Taylor's brother Livingston, that would eventually surface as the b-side of James' "Shower The People" single the following year. Another treat is this solo acoustic reading of the title track from Walking Man, a song not performed during the evening show. (Also available here at Wolfgang's.)
The remainder of this first set consists of "Anywhere Like Heaven," from the classic Sweet Baby James album, followed by the title track to "Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon." Before breaking for an intermission so Congressman Gerry Studds could address this audience, Taylor closes with a unique rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," a pop standard with words and music by Frank Loesser. Loesser wrote the duet in 1944 and premiered the song with his wife, but here Taylor gets to sing both parts, thanks to a pre-recorded track pumped through the PA system. It is thoroughly delightful to hear Taylor duet with himself, and following the song the tape provides additional humorous elements as he exits the stage. Taylor's version of this song wouldn't see official release until nearly 30 years later, when it was included on his 2004 Christmas album, making this early, more humorous version all the more compelling.