Sweet Baby James
James Taylor recorded his debut on The Beatles’ Apple label, but it failed to make him into a star, partly because Taylor was spending time institutionalised, trying to break free of his drug habits. Taylor turned these experiences into ‘Fire and Rain’, and re-launched his career with Warner Brothers. Taylor is joined by Carole King on piano, future Eagles’ bassist Randy Meisner, and session musicians Danny Kootch and Ross Kunkel, who steer the record in a country direction, underscored by the album’s opening line “there is a young cowboy/he lives on the range.”
Sweet Baby James is helped immeasurably by the presence of the classic ‘Fire And Rain’, which is the album’s outstanding song. There’s emotional pull in the lyrics, about the suicide of a friend which shook Taylor out of his own depression, also referencing his and Kootch’s former band The Flying Machine in the final line “Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.” The other key track is ‘Steamroller’, where Taylor demonstrates a sense of humour on a gentle blues parody. There’s also a great cover of the Stephen Foster standard ‘Oh, Susannah’, and solid album tracks like ‘Lo And Behold’, ‘Country Road’ and ‘Anywhere Like Heaven’. The only real filler is the second blues parody ‘Baby Don’t You Loose Your Lip On Me’, while the maudlin ‘Sunny Skies’ makes for uncomfortable listening sometimes.
Sweet Baby James is an effective work and a time capsule of a certain period, even if Taylor lapses into sentimentality too often to allow the album to appeal to music snobs.