November 20, 2014 | « back

JACKSONVILLE.COM — James Taylor warms up Jacksonville crowd on a chilly night

By Tom Szaroleta

It is perhaps fitting that, on the coldest night of the year, a crowd at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena was treated to one of the warmest voices in rock history.

James Taylor is eligible to collect Social Security, but you wouldn’t know it from his voice — he sounds pretty much the same as he did during his ’70s hit-making days. Backed by a band of seasoned pros, he played for better than two hours, mixing in a few new songs with old favorites.

Taylor doesn’t look the part of a rock star these days; he’s tall and thin with just a fringe of hair and he makes goofy faces and tells corny stories. But he’s got a pretty amazing catalog of hits. If you’ve ever been to a beach bar where some guy was playing an acoustic guitar for tips, or if you ever sat in the back of dad’s station wagon on a cross-country trip, odds are good you’ve heard James Taylor’s songs.

He ran through pretty much every song you’d want to hear — “Carolina on My Mind,” “Sweet Baby James,” “Shower the People,” “Handy Man,” “Fire and Rain,” “Mexico,” “Up on the Roof,” “Your Smiling Face,” “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” “You’ve Got a Friend,” even the wildly atypical blues romp “Steamroller,” in which he proclaims himself to be a “churnin’ urn of burnin’ funk.”

The upper deck of the arena was curtained off, but the bottom was jam-packed (if you are going to play to a crowd of 6,000 or so in Jacksonville, half of the arena is your only real option). The crowd was awfully docile, though. Not that you’d expect a mosh pit at a James Taylor show, but hardly anybody was dancing in their seats or standing, even to applaud. To be fair, though, even Taylor was sitting for much of the show, on a stool at center stage while he picked out his hits on an acoustic guitar.

Taylor is one of America’s great storytellers, in songs such as “Fire and Rain” and between songs, when he was funnier than you’d expect from a guy of his stature. He talked about recording his first album in the same studio where the Beatles were working on their “White Album” (“I wish I could remember more of that, but I’m pretty sure I had a good time.”), writing a song for a failed Broadway play and composing one of his signature songs, “Sweet Baby James,” as a lullaby for his newborn nephew.

Taylor’s show is never going to be as high-energy as some of the concerts that have played the same venue this fall (Garth Brooks, Paul McCartney) but as the crowd filed out into the 30-something-degree night, at least Taylor left them with a warm feeling.