Sweet Baby James

One of the best things about living in Chicago is that Robbie Fulks lives here too. An even better thing about living here is that every Monday night he plays a show at the Hideout with a different friend of his. Last week he played with incomparable singer Kelly Hogan.

Ms. Hogan had requested that they play a James Taylor song, which launched Robbie on a long and hilarious rant about Mr. Taylor’s music. He did allow that he was beginning to warm to Mr. Taylor’s songwriting after two of his collaborators had requested his songs.

So I figured that if James Taylor is good enough for Robbie Fulks, I should take a closer look at him as well. Which led to this week’s tribute to Mr. Taylor’s music.

The Isley Brothers “Fire And Rain” (James Taylor)
Part of Robbie’s rant was about a television commercial for a bank that featured a jingle written and sung by James Taylor’s brother who apparently sounds quite a bit like James Taylor when he sings. Robbie sang it with a pretty good James Taylor impersonation. He said that it was a useful song since it told him which bank was the best place to keep his money. He compared it to “Fire And Rain,” which he described as abstract gibberish. But even if you can’t understand what the song is about, the Isley brothers give it a very soulful reading that’s well worth a listen.

Ingrid Kjosavik¬†“Shower The People” (James Taylor)
This song is the kind of easy listening crap that I always associate with James Taylor. It’s got that simplistic kind of Up With People sentiment without the energy of Up With People. Ingrid Kjosavik does what she can with it, trying for an Isley Brothers style soul infusion and is only partly successful. Still, it’s miles ahead of the original as far as listenability goes.

David Kamakahi “Your Smiling Face” (James Taylor)
Ukuleles are getting trendier by the day. I haven’t checked out that Eddie Vedder uke album, I really should get around to doing that. Anyway, this song works pretty well as a happy uke tune.

Mud Acres “Carolina In My Mind” (James Taylor)
James Taylor wrote this song when he was in England recording his first album for the Beatles’ Apple Records label. He was apparently strung out on drugs and feeling homesick and this is what came out.

Ray Charles had Georgia on his mind. He was sentimental about his home and thought of all the things he loved about it. But you never got the impression that Brother Ray was trying to escape from where ever he was. Mr. Taylor, on the other hand, is “going to Carolina in (his) mind.” It sounds like he’s trying to retreat into some fantasy world inside his own head so he doesn’t have to deal with reality. It reminds me of the protagonist from the movie Brazil. And things rarely work out well for folks who escape into their own make-believe realms.

James Taylor “Suzanne” (Leonard Cohen)
Several of Mr. Taylor’s biggest hits (“Handy Man,” “How Sweet It Is”) were covers. But he also put out a whole album of covers, some of them rather unexpected given the type of music he writes. But of all the songs on that covers album the idea of James Taylor covering Leonard Cohen seemed the most absurd to me. The result is pleasant enough but just doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of any other version of this song that I’ve ever heard.

1 thought on “Sweet Baby James

  1. JMichael

    Love Robbie. It makes me want to scream and stomp around when I think of what passes for country that is currently stinking up the airwaves. Also, I’m living in Athens, GA again, where I first heard Kelly Hogan play with her band the Jody Grind almost 25 years ago. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUiCTmXY8_w). It was a tragedy what happened to that band. Anyways, big fan here; I check your site about once a week and I appreciate the way you’ve opened my ears to new and old music. Thanks!

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