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Musicares Person of the Year Tribute - Honoring James Taylor, A

Rhino // Unrated // October 3, 2006
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Louis Howard | posted October 19, 2006 | E-mail the Author
During the 2006 Grammy Awards Week in Los Angeles, MusiCares brought together a group of legendary artists to pay tribute to James Taylor at their annual Person of the Year gala. This event honored Taylor for his outstanding contributions to both the world of music and his philanthropic efforts. His musical legacy and sense of compassion toward humanity represent the artistic talents and social awareness that mark all MusiCares Person of the Year honorees. He joins a list of previous honorees that includes Tony Bennett, Bono, Natalie Cole, Phil Collins, David Crosby, Gloria Estefan, Billy Joel, Elton John, Quincy Jones, Luciano Pavarotti, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, Sting, Brian Wilson, and Stevie Wonder. Net proceeds from the sale and distribution of this DVD will benefit MusiCares and its programs to provide a critical safety net of assistance to music people in times of crisis.

Bringing together an outstanding lineup of friends and contemporaries for this tribute made for a one night only show almost worthy of an artist of Taylor's stature and career- and what a career he has had. Mention the phrase singer-songwriter and one will be hard pressed to not include James Taylor in the mind's eye; bring up 70's soft rock and you're likely to get a mental image of Taylor (and Carole King). Ask a baby boomer who they listened to growing up and you're likely to hear James' name. He has toured successfully for decades, and beginning with the 1970 Sweet Baby James album all but one of his regular releases went either gold or platinum for the remainder of the century. His 1976 Greatest Hits album has sold over ten million copies to date. In 2000, Taylor was inducted into both the Rock 'n Roll Hall Of Fame as well as the Songwriter's Hall Of Fame. Career highlights? His entire career is a highlight, burning brightest in the 70's, but still putting forth plenty of light and warmth in the years afterwards.

Signing for a brief period with the Beatles' Apple Records in 1968, Taylors early days were a bit stormy, not unlike many of that era- with a heroin addiction, a nasty motorcycle accident and a highly publicized marriage to fellow singer-songwriter Carly Simon, a superstar in her own right, which lasted some eleven years. Two marriages and several Grammy Awards later he has managed to bring up some incredible introspective music. While the majority of his hits came in the early years, those songs have proved to be timeless pieces that still get plenty of airplay on classic/soft rock stations today, some of them veritable anthems to the 70's. "Fire And Rain", "Country Road", "How Sweet It Is", "Handy Man", "Your Smiling Face","Shower The People" among them, had Taylor never recorded again after the 70's his place in rock would have been firmly in place, but through the decades James has shown himself to be a thoughtful, consistent craftsman who always has new material with which to continue plying his trade. In the past twenty-five years his has been a career of albums adorned with several gems that may not be big selling singles but easily rank with his finest work, such as "Her Town Too (With J.D.Souther), "Millworker", "Copperline", "Shed A Little Light", "(I've Got To)Stop Thinkin' Bout That", "Only A Dream In Rio","October Road", and"That's Why I'm Here".

Here is a setlist of the tribute performances-

Dixie Chicks - "Shower The People"
Bonnie Raitt - "Rainy Day Man"
India.Arie - "Secret O' Life"
Jackson Browne, David Crosby & Sheryl Crow - "Mexico"
Sting - "You Can Close Your Eyes"
Dr. John & Taj Mahal - "Everybody Has The Blues"
Alison Krauss & Jerry Douglas - "Carolina In My Mind"
Keith Urban - "Country Road"
Bruce Springsteen - "Millworker"
Carole King (with James Taylor) - "You've Got A Friend"
James Taylor - "Shed A Little Light"
James Taylor - "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)"
James Taylor - "Fire and Rain"

First off, while the MusiCares disc producers made it a point to give the viewer some insight into their organization and efforts here, it is brief; more than likely a good portion of the spoken word material has been edited out, leaving the viewer with the music of the evening itself; and oh, what music there is to enjoy. First of all, I am not much of a fan of the plethora of tribute compilations to this or that artist that have been so in vogue for the last ten years or so, chiefly because many of the artists on such projects are virtual unknowns, and secondly because at this point the scheme has, well, been done to death. Happily this is not the case here; all the artists take the time to say a thing or two in homage to James, and they come across as heartfelt- in fact it is hard to imagine these acts could be where they are without having Taylor on their list of mentors. Admittedly, some of the performances were either puzzling or somehow just not worth the material had to work with. It was odd to see Sheryl Crow backed by David Crosby and Jackson Browne, literally so- sadly, neither took a lead vocal along the way, leaving that to Crow's admittedly great voice. Most all of the acts give the songs they perform a fine take, with a few that I found truly worth noting. The Dixie Chicks were a big surprise for me here; I tend to pass by most of their material as it simply isn't my genre, but they excel with the wonderful "Shower The People", with soulful vocals and a soaring violin solo. My favorite cover of the show was the take on "Country Road" by an admittedly under-the-weather Keith Urban, who absolutely took this song and made it all his own this night. There is also a humorous introduction by Cheech Marin and a sardonically funny taped appearance by Jimmy Buffett, mirroring the careers of both he and Taylor with pictures and words from start to finish.

One good move on the part of those involved is using James Taylor's touring/recording band throughout the night's proceedings, backing up the guest artists giving their own unique takes on the material while still have retaining a familiar JT flavor. The excellent backing bandis comprised of Luis Conte (percussion), Walter Fowler (trumpet, flugelhorn, keyboards), Steve Gadd (drums), Larry Goldings (piano, prgan, synth), Jimmy Johnson (bass guitar), Michael Landau (guitar), David Lasley (vocals), Lou Marini (sax, flute, clarinet), Kate Markowitz (vocals), Arnold McCuller (vocals) and Andrea Zonn(violin, vocals).

In the end, the biggest hitter here was also the focus of the night's attention. When James came onstage to take up a duet with Carole King on "You've Got A Friend", the audience was understandably enraptured; seeing these two music ambassadors of the seventies on stage again was a treat. Taylor's vocals seemed a bit below par and I feared we might be about to hear a JT losing that golden baritone so familiar for 35 plus years now. Happily, my fears were for naught, as James quickly proved with his Martin Luther King tribute "Shed A Little Light", then crooned the old Motown classic he remade in the mid-seventies well enough to have his own massive success with, "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)", bringing the entire room to its feet to sing along with he and the band. It was no shock that Taylor was called back to the stage for an encore, alone with his guitar and likely his most familiar signature song, "Fire And Rain". The voice sounded ageless, timeless, and gave the song an unmistakable warmth and richness that only Taylor can.


Aspect ratio appears to be 1.85:1 widescreen. This is a 2006 production and it shows; colors appear accurate and rich, and blacks seem to be dead on. Sharpness is excellent. I find little to fault with the transfer here.


Available audio tracks are Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM stereo. This is a good example of how a 5.1 track should sound- rich, deep on the low end and clean sonics, giving the performances on the disc the opportunity to shine.


No extras.

Final Thoughts-

Happily, this is a tribute show that goes light on pomp and circumstance and heavy on paying tribute to one of the foremost singer-songwriters of the last 50 years: James Taylor. While there are also a few fine JT concert discs out there worth picking up, this is a very recent performance with both a great lineup of stars as well as the man himself. Coming in at around 90 minutes with great audio and video quality, this one is worth having on your music DVD shelf. Recommended.
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