NEW YORK, NY—Somebody yelled from the cheap seats at the beginning of James Taylor’s set at Carnegie Hall, “I love you James,” to which he replied, “I love you too, man. I just can’t figure out why. Maybe it’s best we never meet.” A riff that set off chuckles and song requests from the crowd. Taylor’s two-liner jumpstarted the night into a hippy-dippy fest of corny tales and takes of his greatest hits delivered from his Band Of Legends with bassist Jimmy Johnson as the musical director.

The seven-piece unit, plus backup singers, delivered the goods note for note while Taylor played with a twinkle in his eye and an infectious, goofy smile. His approach was a no frills one: stool, guitar, bottle of water and a setlist posted on a chalk board kept it simple as he let the music ring.

The last of a four-part series featuring Taylor at the hall that included a gala performance, a look at his roots and guitar work, this one was titled Quintessential James Taylor And His Band. Taking on the man’s most popular songs that many claim kicked off the singer-songwriter era of the early ‘70s—documented in the recent PBS show Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter—the band stepped up to the plate with faithful reproductions that varied ever so slightly to keep things interesting.

Percussionist Luis Conte added some latinesque bounce to the songs as well as some world beats to Taylor’s straight-ahead four on the floor rhythms while a quartet of singers colored his soothing baritone. Confident and at ease the entire night, he slowly rolled up the sleeves of his blue Oxford shirt as the show went on. He turned the performance into a homey one as the stories to the songs unfolded. Starting with Buddy Holly’s “Everyday,” the musicians and singers entered then exited the stage as the songs dictated the arrangements from full-blown musical adventures to the stark soloness of man and guitar.

He played to the peaks and valleys of the night perfectly throwing in ‘60s rockers (Carol King’s “Up on the Roof”), bluesy numbers (Leadbelly’s “When I Was A Country Boy On The Western Range,” which opened the second set) and road songs like “Roadrunner” and “Walking Man.”

Taylor was playful as he recounted the genesis to some of his most popular tunes such as “Steamroller Blues” (it took longer to perform it than write it), “Carolina In My Mind” (written on the Spanish Island of Ibiza in a bout of homesickness) and “Something In The Way She Moves” (written in 1968, and played for Paul and George of The Beatles who signed him to Apple Records shortly thereafter). He added, “I’ve written the same 15 songs 10 times each, rather than the 150 that I’m known for!”

For the encore he introduced “You’ve Got A Friend” as “A song I first heard at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles by Carol King that I couldn’t wait to get home and arrange on guitar, unaware that I’d be playing it every night for the rest of my life!” “You Can Close Your Eyes“ ended the night like a bedtime lullaby, closing Taylor’s glorious residency at Carnegie Hall.

 

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