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on 26 October 2010
James Taylor's first album as a solo performer showcases a massive song-writing talent and a beautiful voice. Neither wonder the Beatles signed him to Apple this is one of the best debut albums of all time and it has showed his songs can pass the test of time. It also contains the song which was said to inspire George Harrison to write Something from the Beatles Abbey Road album.
If you like singer/songwriters then this album will not disappoint, if you don't but have an open mind then give James Taylor a try, you will be pleasantly surprised.
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In 2008 I reviewed a reissue CD on Rhino called "The Circle Game" by American singer-songwriter-catalyst TOM RUSH. The original LP was issued in the USA on Elektra Records in 1968 and apart from two original compositions from Rush, the album subsequently became famous for introducing 3 new writers and their extraordinary songs to the world (all on the same album) - Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.

Bolstered by his need to capitalise on this modest success - Taylor arrived in London in March 1968 - was signed to The Beatles ‘Apple’ label within weeks - recorded his songs between June and October 1968 and then saw his own self-titled debut LP released in December of that fateful year.

This CD is an ‘Expanded Edition’ of that 1968 “James Taylor” album - one of 14 Apple Label albums remastered and reissued on 25 October 2010 - and Apple 5099990581120 breaks down as follows (51:09 minutes):

1. Don’t Talk Now
2. Something’s Wrong
3. Knocking ‘Round The Zoo
4. Sunshine Sunshine
5. Taking It In
6. Something In The Way She Moves
7. Carolina In My Mind
8. Brighten Your Night With My Day
9. Night Owl
10. Rainy Day Man
11. Circle Around The Sun
12. The Blues Is Just A Bad Dream
Tracks 1 to 12 are the LP "James Taylor" released 6 December 1968 in the UK on Apple APCOR 3 (Mono)/SAPCOR 3 (Stereo) and on Apple SKAO-3352 in early 1969 in the USA (STEREO Mix Used on the CD).

Tracks 13 to 16 are FOUR PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED DEMOS - bonus tracks new to this 2010 issue (there were none on the 1991 reissue):
13 and 14 - ”Sunny Skies" and "Let Me Ride" were recorded in Los Angeles in early 1969 with Danny Kortchmar on Guitars, Charlie Larkey on Bass and Bishop O'Brien on Drums.

15 and 16 - “Sunshine Sunshine" and "Carolina In My Mind" were recorded in London in the Summer of 1968 as MONO Solo Acoustic Demos.

"Sunshine Sunshine" was one of the tracks that appeared on the Tom Rush album - "Something In The Way She Moves" was the other. "Sunny Skies" was re-recorded for the "Sweet Baby James" album in 1970, while a longer version of "Let It Ride" turned on "Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon" LP in 1971.

"Something In The Way She Moves" was covered by Matthews Southern Comfort on their "Second Spring" album in 1970 (a lovely version) - while Taylor famously returned to "Something..." and "Carolina..." with re-recorded versions on his 1976 "Greatest Hits" set for Columbia Records (these versions are truly beautiful and better known than the Apple originals).

The liner notes are split in two - PETER ASHER explains Taylor's signing and how the album came about - while noted writer and music lover ANDY DAVIS follows this with very informational details on the songs and their history. Unfortunately, like all the other reissues in this series, the booklet is a disappointingly weedy 12-pages (EMI pushes the boat out again people). Having said that, both men do at least fill it with properly informative details, trade adverts, colour photos of a young Taylor and even an 'Internal Memo' from Asher to the US branch of Apple telling them to sign their new discovery. The playing credits are on the last page. Also - when the album was issued in the UK, it originally came with 'orange' lettering on the front cover which was then replaced with 'black' lettering on 1970 represses - the outer digipak has 'black' while the booklet 'orange' - a nice nod towards both issues. The MONO mix of the album is nowhere to be seen and not available as an extra download (nor are any other tracks).

The same team that handled the much-praised 09/09/09 Beatles remasters have done this - GUY MASSEY, STEVE ROOKES, PHIL HICKS and SIMON GIBSON. The audio quality is BEAUTIFUL - a massive improvement. I wish I could say the same of the music...

As much as I love James Taylor's Warner Brothers albums (who doesn't), this 1968 debut is not great. First is the way it's presented - before each tune is a short musical ditty which flows into the song itself, but mostly it doesn't work - and worse - detracts from the music. Then the song itself is overdone. How to describe this - imagine someone taking one of the quieter acoustic songs off "Tea For A Tillerman" by Cat Stevens or Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" and preceding it with a English choral ditty that doesn't match the track (you can't cue up the beginning of the song because of it). Then it gets funked-up halfway through with brass and heavy-handed drum bits to make it a pop hit - you get the idea. They're not all like this of course ("Something's Wrong" is preceded by "Green Leaves" and is good), but most of the others are ruined with this lead-in gimmick and then an overloaded track.

It's easy of course to point the finger of blame 42 years after the event - Apple were trying to make a commercially viable album at the time (Asher mentions 'over-production' in the liner notes). But had Taylor been left alone or recorded in the States - how different things might have been. As it is, what we do get is a glimpse of that greatness in the shockingly good bonus tracks (two with a band, two alone) - especially the beautifully recorded acoustic demos of "Carolina In My Mind" and "Sunshine Sunshine". The tone of his voice is so sweet - and already he had his 'own' sound that is still recognizable to this day. A whole album of these pared-down band/solo numbers and Apple's belief in him as a 'major' songwriting force would have vindicated ten-fold.

To sum up - the improved sound quality will thrill fans and the bonus tracks are exactly that - bonuses. But "James Taylor" is on the way towards "Sweet Baby James" and "Mud Slide Slim..." and it would take a different country and label to get there...

A nice reissue then - but in a three-star kind of way.

PS: see also my reviews for other releases in this October 2010 series:
"That's The Way God Planned It" (1969) and "Encouraging Words" (1970) by Billy Preston, "Doris Troy" (1970), "Is This What You Want?" (1969) by Jackie Lomax, "Magic Christian Music" (1969), "No Dice" (1970), "Straight Up" (1972) and "Ass" (1973) by Badfinger
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on 24 November 2015
A classic album that I never managed to acquire on vinyl - no money in those days! It's good to be able to get these CDs at reasonable prices now and I'm building up my collection. Even with LPs you do have, there really is no point in recording them to CDs yourself these days. Apart from the likely poor quality you don't get the sleeve and inserts, which have a value in themselves. Apart from all that, the album is excellent and has brought back happy memories of days long gone.
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VINE VOICEon 23 December 2010
Like many, I have been a James Taylor fan since the late 60's. I spotted this 2010 Apple records issue and got it this week..Dec 2010. It consists of previous tracks -but remastered...I find it sublime and am actually listening to it as I write this review. Go and check out its 16 tracks. If you like JT and have not got won't be disappointed. Superb and chilled! Thanks James for beautiful music..I think I'll stop there!
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on 25 September 2013
Great songs all the way, with four bonus tracks which include an acoustic demo version of 'Carolina in my Mind' which, to my mind, is superior to the over-produced version which made it onto the album. The three other bonus tracks are superfluous, really, especially the demo of 'Let Me Ride' (what IS that sound that repeats throughout in the background? Awful!). Favourite is 'Something in the Way She Moves', although why the clumsy title? Was it borrowed from the Beatles, or did it inspire them? Either way, why not just call it 'I Feel Fine' or 'Around Me Now?' Ah well, it's long been a favourite and am glad to at last have it in my collection. Small gripe: can't cue this up without the snatch of mad Gothic sitar that precedes it, which is bothersome. Stop moaning, woman, this is an excellent album that still sounds great 40 odd (some very odd) years on.
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on 20 July 2015
I absolutely adore this album and play it frequently. Some people find Peter Asher's orchestrations between some of the tracks irksome. I don't. in most cases they are beautiful and add to the sum of the whole. I can't imagine Something In The Way She Moves without the harpsichord introduction.

One of the things I like about this album is the way it varies in mood and pace, from the brooding Sunshine Sunshine to the uptempo Carolina On My Mind (which benefits from Paul McCartney's bass). His follow up for Warner Bros, Sweet Baby James, is a great album but rarely hits the heights of this Apple release.
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on 21 November 2010
My interest engaged by the recent Apple collection, and already a Taylor fan, I wanted to have this. It's very hard, these days, to forget the famous versions and really listen with an open mind to these original efforts. I'm afraid I mostly failed: most of the songs just sounded too hurried and too clumsy compared to the beautifully crafted revisions recorded later on. This is, nonetheless, a very interesting historical document if you admire JT. The sound, by the way, is excellent (as the fine and detailed review above rightly notes) and I welcome the little booklet that provides some background to JT's Apple adventure.
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on 1 May 2014
If only they hadn't over-produced it. At least this has some demos with just him and his guitar. Not a bloody harpsichord in sight.
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