My first five minutes with James Taylor

In creative commons, creativity, culture, Manifold Recording, Miraverse, music industry, recording studio by Michael Tiemann

James Taylor -- Covers James Taylor has been a blessing to me since hearing his records in high school more than 20 years ago.  While I did also listen to music that was louder (Jimi Hendrix) or bigger (Led Zepplin) or more highly produced (The Beatles), his voice, his guitar playing, and the lyrics he sang combined to create  for me a touchstone of musical purity and beauty that actually sustained me through some deep and dark noreastern winters.  So James, if you are reading this, thank you!

This year James Taylor is promoting Covers, a new album of old music he didn’t write.  And as he explains in the liner notes of his CD, that’s nothing new.  And there’s yet more “everything old is new again” as he talks about his recording process…

He reminds us that he’s been doing covers of other people’s songs since the beginning, and that a fair-sized portion of his hits have been covers:

  • You’ve Got a Friend
  • How Sweet it Is
  • Up On the Roof
  • Handyman

He goes on to say that writing an original song and reinterpreting someone else’s are very similar processes, just as making music is a lot like listening to it.  Sounds not unlike the quote I chose for The Miraverse:

The singer alone does not make a song,
there has to be someone who hears:
One man opens his throat to sing,
the other sings in his mind.

— Rabindranath Tagore, Broken Song
(translated by William Radice)

He also gives a shout out to a method of recording that has been all but lost in today’s modern industrial process.  He talks about spending ten days in deep January in a converted barn in the woods of Western Massachusetts, and how remarkable and unusual it was to put 12 musicians in the same place at the same time, creating “a type of ‘live’ recording sadly seldom seen in these days of the overdub.”  So when I had a chance to show him my studio plans after a rally for Barack Obama in Chapel Hill,  I was thrilled at the three questions he asked me:

  1. How large is the Music Room?
  2. Is it really an integrated recording and performance space?
  3. What is that console–is it analog?

And he blessed my again, literally, by signing an ink-jet rendering of the studio with these words:

Bless this ship
and all who sail on her

I do hope he makes good on his promise to return again to Chapel Hill, and I do hope that when he does we’ll be open and ready to show him that his vision of making real music has a home in North Carolina.

And for those who want to read more about James Taylor’s sensible perspective about music and the music industry, here’s a great interview where he discusses Covers in more depth.