Although I can only find eleven ticket stubs, I’m pretty sure that last night’s James Taylor concert was my 17th. I haven’t missed any of his local appearances since 1992. If James Taylor’s in Cincinnati, I go see him; it’s just something I do. The downside of seeing a musician that many times–even if he’s a favorite–is that things can get a bit repetitive after awhile. Really, do I need to hear “Fire and Rain” or “Something in the Way She Moves” again? They’re lovely songs, but over a dozen live performances is enough for me.
That’s why I was happy to hear that James and his band had recorded an album of covers (release date TBD) and that his versions of other people’s songs would feature heavily in this summer’s set. It’s a good idea. Although James Taylor is an accomplished songwriter in his own right, many of his most famous songs were actually covers. He usually does a good job interpreting other people’s songs. I was interested in hearing the new covers he’d chosen and how his versions held up against the originals.
The majority of the songs in the Riverbend show were covers. JT’s got to keep the rubes up on the lawn happy, though, so he threw in some hits as well. It was a pretty good mix. Some of the covers were songs already associated with James Taylor like “You’ve Got a Friend” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”. Most of them were versions of songs I’d never heard him perform before like “Why Baby Why” and “It’s Growing”.
The highlight of the covers was “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'” from the musical Oklahoma. It sounds like a terrible idea on paper, but it worked surprisingly well. If he hadn’t announced that the song was from the musical, I probably would’ve taken it for a new original. The lowpoint of the night was James Taylor’s version of Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman”. First of all, a lot of the audience laughed when James announced that the song was made famous by Glen Campbell. What?! Why are you laughing at Glen Campbell? Glen Campbell is awesome. That got me all grumpy. Getting me even more grumpy was Lou Marini’s flute-work on “Wichita Lineman”. It was far too loud and interfered with James Taylor’s singing. He ruined the song. Lower your volume or wait to play your flute until James is finished singing, please. You’re dealing with the lyrics of Jimmy Webb here; they deserve to be heard. Thank you.
Here’s the setlist for the show. In the case of the covers, I have included the composer or the musician who originally recorded the song.
First set: It’s Growing (the Temptations)/Get a Job (the Silhouettes)/Country Road/Whiskey Before Breakfast (traditional instrumental)/(I’ve Got to) Stop Thinkin’ ‘Bout That/Wichita Lineman (Jimmy Webb)/Why Baby Why (George Jones)/Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ (Rodgers & Hammerstein)/Everyday (Buddy Holly)/You’ve Got a Friend (Carole King)/Mexico/Shed a Little Light
Second set: Instrumental intro–>Hound Dog (Big Mama Thornton)/Only One/Walking Man/(I’m a) Road Runner (Junior Walker)/Sweet Baby James/Some Days You Gotta Dance (the Dixie Chicks)/On Broadway (the Drifters)/Steamroller/Carolina in My Mind/Your Smiling Face/Shower the People
Encore: In the Midnight Hour (Wilson Pickett/Steve Cropper)–>Knock on Wood (Eddie Floyd/Steve Cropper)/How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)(Holland-Dozier-Holland) –>goofy outro
Looking back, I’d say this was my favorite James Taylor concert since at least the mid-90s. I’ve never seen him put on a bad show, but all the fresh material this time out really added to my enjoyment. A newcomer to James Taylor might have preferred a more traditional JT setlist, but the covers-heavy set he’s performing this summer was just what I needed. I look forward to the release of his new record.