James Taylor at Tanglewood

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You know what sucks?  Don’t Stop Believin by Journey is a fantastic song.  It’s a beautifully crafted pop tune that will undoubtedly stand the test of time.  It would be a flawless piece of music played on an acoustic guitar, or sung by a barber shop quartet.  Nothing can stop it.   Not even every douchey frat guy or wannabe real housewife that sings it at the top of their lungs in a Murray Hill Kareoke Bar.  Well, maybe them, but even so, every time I hear it, it just gets to me.  No real point to that, other than to listen to the actual song.   Moving on.

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While celebrating America this weekend up in Massachusetts,  I attended a James Taylor show.  This may not be my typical musical event…but I did enjoy it quite a bit.  Lately I’ve come to respect Taylor as an all around badass.  The main turning point, was when he posted free guitar lessons on his website.  What other legendary songwriter/players do such a thing?  Kudos to you JT, kudos to you.

They call this type of music “Easy Listening” and it is just that.  The melodies are  pleasant, the tempos are just in the right place to bob your head a little bit, the show is not too long, there is nothing at all offensive about this type of music.  While I will not analyze James Taylor’s songwriting style, I will talk about the musicianship of those performing with him.

When you’re at that level, you probably don’t have a lot of time to waste with less than stellar musicians.  I once saw a workshop with drummer Greg Bissonette, who played with Taylor.  He basically said, they go to his house in the Berkshires for a few days, have a BBQ and rehearse, and that’s it for the tour.  It’s the old “I cheat, I just use great musicians” thing. There were no extraneous notes, no rushing or lagging, everything was dead on.   There were about 14 people on the stage, 5 backup singers, horn section, extra percussion…but no toes were stepped on.

On drums was Chad Wackerman, best known for his work with Frank Zappa.  Zappa is the musical equivalent of having unquestionable street cred.   Its like playing for The Yankees early 2000’s while winning the superbowl, and having 14 gold medals in various sports.  Are those terms accurate?  I was kind of winging it.  Yes, that was the only sports reference you will ever see on this blog.  Deal with it.  Here is Wackerman and another Zappa Alum:

Not the first person you’d imagine playing with James Taylor…but he can hold his own in any musical situation I’d imagine.  He’s not shredding 128th notes over “You’ve Got A Friend” or something.

On guitar was Michael Landau, who I had never heard of, but who’s Wikipedia page claims played with Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, and all sorts of others.  The guy could play some hella tasteful solos, and even shred a few 12895th notes without looking like a dick.  Serious players all around.

There was one moment when Vince Gil and Amy Grant came out….well, not really a moment, more like 30 unnecessary minutes.  They played some cheesy pop-country, and some 90’s hits, it really had no place happening.  Maybe old JT was just feeling tired and wanted a break?  Who knows, I’ll forgive him

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One notable thing about the venue – Tanglewood up in MA, is absolutely beautiful. They encourage picnicking, and even allow alcohol!  What a concept!  No one gets out of control intoxicated, everyone has a lovely little area set up, some with candles and tables and whatnot, I felt so civilized!  Maybe its owed more to the artist than the particular crowd…I mean, If it were a Dave Matthews Band show or something, you know there would be a few kids in white hats shotgunning beers to Don’t Stop Believin’, ya know?

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