AMERICANSONGWRITER.COM — Grammys 2021: James Taylor Wins Grammy for American Standard
By Paul Zollo
Legendary songwriter, hero and song champion James Taylor won his sixth Grammy award last night, though his first for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for American Standard, a beautifully timeless love-letter to songwriting itself and to all songwriters.
In great JT style, he accepted his award during this first virtual Grammy Awards while in the midst of a family ski trip, as seen in the great acceptance video below, which he posted online . “What an embarrassment of riches,” he says, smiling from the sunny slopes.
JT’s reverence for the traditions of great song craft, grace and magic in the remarkable melodies and lyrics on every page of the Great American Songbook is palpable in every measure of these songs. This album and his genuine love for these timeless treasures goes a long way in reminding the world how much beauty lives forever in these songs. They represent, as Ry Cooder said in these pages, a high point in the artistry of the American song.
And hearing James Taylor, a beloved huckleberry friend in our lives for decades, sing “Moon River” alone is so poignantly right. Of course, his connection to this song isn’t random; it’s a powerful and personal one which informs and inspires his rendition. As he explained last year in our interview about this album, and specifically about “Moon River”:
“It’s a corny old song for sure,” said James, “but there’s no question that it has huge emotional power. It refers to Huck Finn on a raft with the river carrying him into his own life, into his future.
“It’s so much about my own twin boys, who are 18 years old on the cusp of going off to college. When you’re that age… embarking on the adventure of your own lifetime. That song evokes all of that. And there’s a series of chord changes descending from a high diminished. The way he moves those chords against the melody and the way it compliments that brilliant lyric, it’s really sort of like casting your faith to the wind, or casting bread out on the water. Taking the giant leap of faith. That’s what the song is about, but it’s so much more because of the emotion.”
American Standard, his 19th studio album, was released in February 2020 to glowing reviews and major chart entries in the US and overseas. With it, James became the first artist ever with Top 10 albums in each of the last six decades.
On American Standard, he reimagines some of the most beloved songs of the 20th century, infusing new sounds and fresh meaning into these timeless works of art. The 14 carefully chosen selections naturally feature his souful singing and incomparable musicianship. Also that of John Pizzarelli, the great guitarist who merged his magic with that of James to create a beautiful, mesmerizing journey through song.
Along the way there’s a swinging take on Donaldson & Whiting’s “My Blue Heaven,” Lerner & Loewe’s enduring “Almost Like Being In Love,” from Brigadoon; Hoagy Carmichael’s enchanting “The Nearness of You,” Frank Loesser’s jaunty “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” from Guys and Dolls; Rodgers & Hammerstein’s volatile social commentary from South Pacific, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” Billie Holiday’s heartsong, “God Bless The Child,” and the first ever cover of the 1938 Merrie Melodies cartoon Katnip Kollege song, “As Easy As Rolling Off A Log.”