It’s been a long time coming. James Taylor has been near the top of our wishlist for years. Now the stars have aligned, and we were thrilled to at last welcome the legendary singer/songwriter to the Austin City Limits stage for a special show full of songs from his new LP Before This World, his first collection of original music in thirteen years, and deep cuts from across his long career.
Taylor and his band (featuring original Saturday Night Live band member Lou Marini and legendary drummer Steve Gadd) opened with “Wandering,” a gentle, reflective song from his 1975 LP Gorilla. He followed with the funky “Me and My Guitar,” another gem from the early 70s, and “Copperline,” a nostalgic folk-popper from New Moon Shine, his first LP of the 90s. Taylor stayed with more recent material for the next pair of cuts, including the new album’s positivity anthem “Today Today Today” and the 90s-era ballad “Line ‘em Up.” Taylor then jumped back to 1970 for his self-described “tree-huggers’ anthem” “Country Road,” a crowd favorite from his breakthrough Sweet Baby James. Then it was back to the present for another pair from New Moon Shine and Before This World: the rousing, gospel-inflected “Shed a Little Light” and the Boston Red Sox mash note “Angels of Fenway.”
Paying tribute to the state in which he was performing, the perpetually smiling Taylor essayed his 80s-vintage cover of Texas rock pioneer Buddy Holly’s “Everyday.” Then he took a giant leap back in time to 1968, lifting his lilting hit “Carolina in My Mind” from his self-titled debut, originally released on the Beatles’ Apple label. Donning an electric guitar, Taylor shifted gears with 1970’s bluesy, rumbling “Steamroller,” which served to showcase the talents of his band. His iconic take on his friend Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” unsurprisingly earned him a standing ovation, while “Sweet Baby James,” his variation on cowboy ballads, cooled the crowd back down like a misty rain on the dusty trail. Taylor then invited the adoring audience to join him on a raucous run through his hit cover of Marvin Gaye’s joyful “How Sweet It Is.”
The main set ended as gently as it began with the clarinet/flugelhorn/violin-enhanced Before This World ballad “You and I Again.” But of course it wasn’t over. Taylor reappeared and brought out a surprise guest: Austinite Shawn Colvin, who joined him for a lovely take on his 1971 song “You Can Close Your Eyes.” But it still wasn’t over, as Taylor and his band came back for an unplanned second encore, starting with the frisky “Mexico” and ending with the grooving “Your Smiling Face,” which drove the audience wild. It was a spectacular way to close out a landmark ACL taping, and we can’t wait for you to see the show when it airs November 14th as a full-hour episode as part of our new Season 41 on your local PBS station.