Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Album of the Day #174: MUD SLIDE SLIM AND THE BLUE HORIZON - James Taylor

Artist: James Taylor

Title: Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon
Year: 1971
Label: Warner Bros.
Songs: Love Has Brought Me Around/You've Got A Friend*/Places In My Past/Riding On A Rail Road/Soldiers/Mud Slide Slim/Hey Mister, That's Me Up On The Jukebox/You Can Close Your Eyes/Machine Gun Kelly**/Long Ago And Far Away/Let Me Ride/Highway Song/Isn't It Nice To Be Home Again
Written by: James Taylor, except *by Carole King and **by Danny Kortchmar
Produced by: Pater Asher
Thoughts: To start his career, JT put together a fantastic string of three albums highlighted by fantastic singles and peaceful album tracks that could make even tensest person relax.
On James Taylor and Sweet Baby James, Taylor provides the fresh air that many records lacked. They're relaxing embraces of peace and quiet. Plus, it's just the stuff that laid the ground-work for the singer/songwriter explosion that he found himself at the head of.
However, Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon is a much more laid-back affair that features songs that beg for release. It's obvious that Taylor wants to escape the fame he's found. "Riding On A Rail Road" on side one and practically the entirety of side two is just Taylor begging to go back to the homes he's familiar with. It's like he took "Carolina In My Mind" and extended it by a half-hour. The wonderful thing about this album's lyrics, though, is that even though so many of these songs focus on the same topic, they are so varied that you almost never realize it. "Riding On A Rail Road" is akin to "Sweet Baby James" and "Fire And Rain", but "Let Me Ride" is more like the rockers that he would write throughout the rest of the 1970's.
The remaining songs are as amazing as you might expect them. From the rousing opening of "Love Has Brought Me Around" to the sad story of a lost soul in "Hey Mister, That's Me Up On The Jukebox", JT covers a lot of ground. There's also three centerpieces to this record: the two singles and the title track. Carole King's "You've Got A Friend" is timeless no matter who does it, but the way he sings it is even more tender and (dare I say) 'genuine' than King's version. You genuinely believe that Taylor is going to escape that piece of plastic and help you through your troubles. "Long Ago And Far Away" is a touching story that only Taylor could sing. Then, there's the side one closer, "Mud Slide Slim". Now, this is what I'm talking about. Everything about Taylor that I love is wrapped up in it - from the great lyrics to his amazing vocals. I love the way he sings "'Cause there's nothing like the sound of sweet soul music/To change a young lady's mind...". That's a classic line.
Maybe I'm gushing over this record too much, but it's hard to find fault in a record I enjoy so much. I will say that the album could use a really good clean-up by Warner. It's a shame that neither this album nor Sweet Baby James has ever been re-issued in a superior form. The vinyl version of this album sounds so crisp and intimate that it puts the CD to shame.

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