BOSTONHERALD.COM – James Taylor takes inspiring trip on new album
By: Jed Gottlieb
James Taylor wanders the world through his songs.
The 67-year-old Massachusetts native walks on country roads and ponders the bright moon of Mexico; he begs his baby to stay in L.A. and goes to Carolina (at least in his mind). Oh, and he rides the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston.
But he’s never made a travelogue like “Before this World,” out Tuesday.
Taylor’s first album of original material since 2002’s “October Road,” “Before this World” treks American interstates and the Rocky Mountains, the streets of Toronto and the Near East.
“I do tend to write road songs,” Taylor said from his Berkshires home. “Usually there’s one every album, last album it was ‘My Traveling Star.’ This one has ‘Stretch of the Highway’ and, well, I guess there’s a lot of road songs here.”
Many come straight out of his travels — “I wrote the lyrics to ‘Montana’ in Montana when my kids were on a ski vacation and I spent the time when they were on the slopes in a friend’s cabin writing lyrics,” he said.
The album’s most distinctive tracks — “Angels of Fenway” and “Far Afghanistan” — came from deeply different places. But Taylor says they were the two he knew he wanted to write when he started work on the new LP.
“Angels of Fenway” recalls the magic of the 2004 American League Championship series, which, let’s face it, is the best subject for a song ever.
“I was working on the West Coast during that series with the Yankees,” he said. “But for anyone from New England, wherever we were, it was a miracle series. … After it, and after we swept St. Louis, I kept reading little pieces about people visiting their granddad’s graves to leave pennants or people that had waited two generations for this. That’s where the song came from.”
Unlike our other Fenway anthems — “Dirty Water,” “Sweet Caroline,” half the Dropkick Murphys’ catalog — Taylor’s tune is sweet, slow and sentimental. But it will sound huge when he debuts it at Fenway Park Aug. 6 at his show with Bonnie Raitt.
“Far Afghanistan” mines another vein of nostalgia. Taylor’s song tells the tale of an Indiana boy deployed in Kandahar. He’s missing home but, in a twist, he’s also struck by the beauty of the place.
“I’ve never been to Afghanistan, and I’ve never done military service, so in a way I don’t have any right to write a song like this,” he said. “But the soldier’s experience and war is something that occupies me a lot. I know a lot of people who have served, and I’ve lost friends in Vietnam and in later wars.
“One Marine I talked to told me he expected to be in hell’s backyard in Afghanistan, but he never expected the stark beauty of the land,” Taylor added.
The song is one of the album’s best, one of Taylor’s best. Hopefully, it makes his Boston set list.
Of course, he has a dozen Top 40 hits, countless fan favorites and “Angels of Fenway” to cram into a couple hours.
“That’s the one I’m most excited to play on that stage,” he said. “But any song will be a thrill. I’ve waited a long time to play Fenway.”