This is Taylor’s first album of original material in 13 years and it is swelled with a sense of familiarity both in sound and narrative preoccupations. What we hear is what we always have with James: musically softly countryfolk with the occasional funky [Taylorstyle] addition – always remember the brilliance of Steamroller – and the lyrical reflectiveness now on age and home comforts which includes, meaningfully, family, and those rootings like baseball that partly define his absolute Americanism.
Opener Today, Today, Today is a bluesy upbeat start, and this is followed by a classic Taylor ballad You and I Again. The voice is as gently compelling as ever, the distinctive tone never waning over the years and, as I have written before, seeming to mature in its clarity. Baseball gets its special focus on Angels of Fenway and this sounds so classically Taylor – a mono-melody made attractive by that voice, and then sweetened by harmonies but also a chorus: the sounds of a game played in the background somewhat naff, but this is the kind of homage and celebration that could be a commercial. And if Taylor is presenting I am buying.
The song of the album, and played superbly live recently on Jools, is Stretch of the Highway. Here is James at his smoothest funky best, singing of sweet potato in a descending melody with breaks into those lush harmony accompaniments and call responses. It exudes sweet sass too, references to putang surprising and one hopes this isn’t the lyrical equivalent to old dad dancing. The organ and horns add pump to the volume. Oh the drawl on internal combustion – yes indeed.