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Review: James Taylor at Verizon Theatre

Posted 10:30am on Monday, Jun. 16, 2014

There was something appropriate about seeing James Taylor on Father’s Day.

An acclaimed artist with a catalog of comforting, reassuring — faintly paternal, even — songs, Taylor’s sold out stop at the Verizon Theatre felt akin to coming home.

Even Taylor’s expressive voice — like a piece of fine-grained wood, polished and well-loved — was welcoming, spinning out anecdotes between songs (at one point, he held up the set list to assure fans the hits were on deck) and sounding sweet throughout.

The audience’s affection for the man and his music was evident well before setting foot inside the venue — traffic on westbound Interstate 30 stretched back a half mile from the Belt Line Road exit, leading many to endure an almost hour-long wait to park — and throughout the night, there were ceaseless proclamations of love, mingled with sing-alongs and standing ovations.

Over more than two hours and a pair of sets bisected by a 20-minute intermission, Taylor and his 11-member “All-Star Band” (which counts among its ranks some heavy hitters, including sax man “Blue” Lou Marini, drummer Steve Gadd and vocalist Arnold McCuller) deftly rendered the 66-year-old Grammy winner’s catalog with nuance and practiced ease.

There were even a few, as-yet-unreleased tracks — the elegiac You and I and Today, Today, Today — from a forthcoming album, which Taylor said he tried to finish before his current tour, but “It’s going to be later, I’m afraid.”

Given the permanence of hits like Fire and Rain, Carolina in My Mind or Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend, it’s easy to forget how eclectic Taylor’s catalog can be.

His bucolic pop songs, rooted in folk, are nevertheless touched by a full range of musical influences: jazz, blues, R&B, rock and country all leave a mark.

But none of the tunes would possess the power they do without the stories behind them.

More than once Sunday, Taylor spun poignant, direct yarns about the genesis of, say, Carolina in My Mind (conceived out of abject homesickness, while watching the Beatles make what would become the White Album) or Sweet Baby James (of which Taylor said simply, “This song came in the window”).

All of which served to intensify the familiar embrace of beloved classics, making Sunday feel like a particularly satisfying hug from one of pop music’s most unassuming greats.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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