Legendary singer-songwriter James Taylor is set to release his new album, American Standard on February 28, and will also be the cover story for the March issue of American Songwriter.
American Standard will be Taylor’s 19th studio album but his first release since Before This World, some five years ago. On American Standard, Taylor mixes new sounds with fresh meaning into his timelessness, creating works of art, while also reimagining some of the most beloved songs of the 20th century, making them his own as only Taylor can.
We were able to talk with Taylor in advance of the March publication about his work, and here are a few “bonus tracks” that won’t make the article:
AMERICAN SONGWRITER: The music is cosmic, but also it’s earthly. Music is empirical, whereas so much in these modern times is not. And you can only understand music by experiencing it in real-time; You have to live in it.
JAMES TAYLOR: Yes, that’s the other thing. That’s right. And it either hits you and engages you, or it doesn’t. You don’t have to make a judgment or an analysis of it. It either goes right to your heart or it doesn’t.
AS: Why do you think that is? Certain melodies are almost universally loved, such as “Moon River.” It starts with a melodic leap of a fifth. Do you think a melody needs a big range, or large leaps, to be great?
JT: No, not always. Sometimes something purposefully small and limited is great too. But you can’t deny a great leap, as in “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” That octave leap at the beginning of the tune is a great artifact.
AS: Yes, and so poignant. But is our response to that something intrinsic, or something we’ve learned? Cause it does go right to the heart.
JT: It’s hard to say. I do think that there is cultural bias, but I think that there is also a universality about it that can’t be denied. I think the answer is it’s both; there is a cultural predisposition, but there also is an innate universality about a melody that starts with the overtone series. The fact that when you take a long tube and blow into it, it first makes an octave, then it makes a fifth, then a second octave then a third, a fifth and a seventh, and so on. That’s the basis of it, that these frequencies organize themselves in an overtone series that is a physical reality which is empirically true.
So, in the beginning is the octave, and then comes the fifth, and then comes the third, either major or minor, and then comes the seventh, and then you start getting really high overtones like if you were playing a French horn, like seconds and minor thirds.
Pre-Order American Standard HERE.
In addition to the new album, Taylor has announced a major US tour with special guest Jackson Browne, kicking off on May 15th at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. The tour will reach 26 cities, nationwide. The US tour follows his already announced coast to coast Canadian Tour with Bonnie Raitt. Taylor will also be returning to Fenway Park in Boston with his All-Star Bandon June 21st for a special show featuring Brandi Carlile and Shawn Colvin. For more information please visit https://tour.jamestaylor.com/.
The 14 carefully chosen selections on American Standard naturally feature Taylor’s one-of-a-kind vocal ability and incomparable musicianship, but what makes the album so unique is the inventive way he and fellow co-producers, longtime collaborator Dave O’Donnell and master guitarist John Pizzarelli, approached the project: beautifully simple, stripped-down guitar arrangements based on Taylor’s and Pizzarelli’s skillful guitar work rather than the more traditional piano. The effect is mesmerizing.
A small sampling of the album’s inspired repertoire includes James’ swinging take on Walter Donaldson and George A. Whiting’s “My Blue Heaven,” Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s enduring “Almost Like Being In Love,” from the score of Brigadoon; Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington’s enchanting “The Nearness of You,”Frank Loesser’s jaunty “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” from the Broadway smash Guys and Dolls; Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s piercing social commentary from South Pacific, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” a superb reading of the Billie Holiday-Arthur Herzog Jr. classic, “God Bless The Child,” and the first ever cover of a song originally featured in the 1938 Merrie Melodies cartoon Katnip Kollege, “As Easy As Rolling Off A Log.”
The album comes on the heels of Taylor’s previously announced Break Shot, a deeply personal and authentic audio-only memoir, for Audible. This one-of-a-kind music and storytelling experience is the first-ever Audible Original performance by James Taylor and will be available on JAN. 31st, 2020. Pre-order HERE. Produced by MTV/VH1 veteran Bill Flanagan, Taylor takes listeners through the triumphs and traumas of his childhood and difficult family life. Break Shot illuminates the deep connection Taylor has with the songs on his new album, American Standard.