February 23, 2017 | « back

THESTRAITSTIMES.COM — JT shines with big heart for music and people

By Eddino Abdul Hadi

Halfway through his concert at The Star Theatre on Tuesday night, veteran American singer-songwriter James Taylor did something remarkable.

He stopped the show for an intermission.

But instead of using the break to chill backstage, the 68-year-old spent more than 20 minutes sitting at the edge of the stage signing autographs, shaking hands and taking selfies with fans, who started crowding around him.

It is not common to see someone of his stature do such a thing midway through a show which, with the intermission, spanned two hours and 40 minutes, longer than the average Western pop concert.

Dressed simply in a dark suit, polo shirt and newsboy cap, his set was dynamic, dipping into a long discography spanning more than 50 years, with pensive folk songs and rocking numbers.

As his setlist would attest, Taylor sits in the sweet spot of having both music accolades and commercial success, with multiple Grammies and more than 100 million records sold.

So there were plenty of songs that have become synonymous with the singer, who staked claim to the initials “JT” long before Justin Timberlake ever did, as well as deeper album cuts for more discerning fans.

There were his pastoral tunes, or what he jokingly referred to as the “country-hippie bulls**t” such as Country Road (1970).

Then there were the odes to his beloved hometown of North Carolina, songs such as Copperline (1991) and Carolina In My Mind, a tune that dates to 1968, the year he made his solo debut as the first nonBritish act signed to The Beatles’ Apple Records.

He made the Carole King classic You’ve Got A Friend (1971) his own, with an amiable rendition that had the audience singing along, while upbeat songs such as Mexico (1975) got them on their feet and dancing.

The thing one learns watching Taylor live is that his singing voice seems untouched by time. He crooned with a warm tenor that was reassuring and kind, indistinguishable from his recorded works in the late 1960s and 1970s.

But he loves to have fun too, pulling off exaggerated stage moves and singing in a mock-growly voice on blues parody Steamroller Blues (1970).

He played a couple of fresh tunes from Before This World, his most recent album, released in 2015.

“Don’t worry,” he reassured fans who might not be familiar with the new songs. “They sound just like the old ones.”

And as he made time for the fans, he was also generous with praise for his seven-piece band and trio of back-up singers, a solid bunch that included acclaimed names such as drummer Steve Gadd and Blues Brothers saxophonist Lou Marini.

Not only did he introduce them individually and rattle off their credentials, he also ended each introduction by walking up to the musicians and either giving them a hug, handshake or, at the very least, a bow and a tip of his hat.

More than 50 years after he made his debut, Taylor is still very much in love with making music and it is a trait that makes him an endearing live act.