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Category Archives: james taylor

2010 Kennedy Center Honors

Aw, yeah!  Last week, CBS aired the Kennedy Center Honors that featured two of my all time favorite musical artists — Sir Paul McCartney and the fantabulous Merle Haggard.

Broadway composer Jerry Herman and dancer-choreographer Bill T. Jones were also honored, in addition to Oprah Winfrey. 

Side rant:  Can I just say that I am SO sick of Oprah?  When will we be freed from her excessive exposure and self-promotion?  I find her so insincere and disengenuous.  She sucks people in like she’s the “every woman” and “just like you” when she’s a kabillionaire who certainly doesn’t have to worry about college tuition or paying the mortgage.  Besides, anyone who needs a TV show, radio network, magazine and now a TV network, has got to be filling some kind of hole in self-agrandizement.  And people just continue to fawn all over her….blech!

For the Kennedy Honors, you’d swear that it was the Oprah Honors and “the others” were just there to bask in her glory.  She cannot help but to usurp everyone else’s attention….but I digress.

I’ve chronicled my Beatles love many times on this blog (see Beatles tags), but don’t know if I’ve ever delved into my Merle-adoration.  Merle Haggard is one of the legends of music — not just Country music — and is one of the good guys who has made things better for those around him.  And, his music is just, well…good.

Vince Gill gives a great retrospective of Merle’s career at the Kennedy Honors ceremony:

and performances of Merle tunes by Kris Kristoffersen, Sherly Crow, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill and pal, Willie Nelson.  Note:  it’s a little long, but well worth it.  Also, notice Oprah trying to sing along.  Really?!?  You think she’s got a bunch of Merle CDs at home?

It’s no coincidence that Merle Haggard is such a friend of new artists and is so loved by his fellow performers since he decided to pursue music after hearing Johnny Cash at San Quentin when Cash was trying to bring a little joy to those less fortunate.  Just goes to show that paying it forward has ever-implacating rewards.  Personally, I’m torn between these two as my favorite Merle tunes:

That’s The Way Love Goes

My Favorite Memory

….Merle.  A TRUEadour.

Finally, I can’t overlook Sir Paul.  Perhaps the greatest tribute to Paul is this medley featuring Apple Records recording artist, James Taylor, the irrepresible Mavis Staples and rock legend, Steven Tyler.

Note:  Check out Oprah (AGAIN) trying to hog the limelight.  GAH!

I couldn’t help but think that Paul was thinking about John Lennon with this program being so close to the 30th anniversary of John’s death.  Must have been surreal….and lonely.

 

Boat Songs

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A few weeks ago, I shared that we have begun our journey down the road to river living.  There’ll be more enthralling stories to come, but for now we’re enjoying our new toy.  Last weekend was our first real foray into the waters.  Now, I find myself anxious and excited to get to the end of the week for more than the aspect of “getting my drink on”.

In my ‘weekend’ post, I mentioned taking advantage of the boat’s awesome on-board CD player and my Boat playlist.  Little Deb requested to see/hear it and who am I to deny Little Deb.  So, without further adieu….the Music Maven Weekend Out on the Water Thank the Lord for the Weekend Boat Playlist.

Captain Jim’s Drunken Dream, James Taylor

Life is Beautiful, Keb ‘Mo

The Heart of Life, John Mayer

Here Comes the Sun, The Beatles

Luckenbach, Texas, Waylon Jennings

Old Blue Chair, Kenny Chesney

I’ll Follow the Sun, The Beatles

My Father’s Eyes, Eric Clapton

Live and Let Die, Paul McCartney

Free, Donovan Frankenreiter

Sweet Wanomi, Bill Withers

Sea of Heartbreak, George Straight with Jimmy Buffett

The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down, Ellis Paul

You Really Got a Hold on Me, The Beatles (w/ Billy Preston)

She’s Got a Hold on Me, Hacienda

Too Much Stuff, Delbert McClinton

Walkin’ to New Orleans, Fats Domino

Sending Me Angels, Delbert McClinton

Melissa, Allman Brothers

Pirate Looks at 40, Jimmy Buffett

Really, no rhyme nor reason…just various tunes I dig, especially on the water.  Livin’ for Saturday.

Hope you have a great weekend.  I KNOW I will…

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A Tale of Redemption…Going “The Distance”

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First, let me say that Taylor Hicks owes me nothing.  Nada.  Not a thing.

I used to think that he did, but let me say here (clearly), that I was wrong.  You see, four years ago when I rabidly followed Taylor on the cheese fest that is American Idol, I was envigorated by a young man who appeared to beat the odds, defy “the man” and strike a blow for the every day music lover.  He was a refreshing throwback to good, “old” music that was pure, un-synthesized, and “real”.  He was the everyday musical hero who came to save the day.

After AI, I expected Taylor to remain “all about the music” and continue to defy the musical ogres who control content and dole out the uninspiring pablum derived from electronic manipulation.  It was evident from Taylor’s first post-AI release, Taylor Hicks, that there was more influence from those writing the checks than any of us would have preferred.  Through the whole time, Taylor seemed to be impersonating some character in a play and while fans largely supported the record, it rang hollow on the charts.  It seemed that the daring, soulful style and smokin’ harmonica accompniment was largely absent from the record, leaving listeners, including me, wondering just where Taylor Hicks went.

His live tour was very successful and likely garnished Taylor enough dough to break away from J Records (whether mutual or not), start his own label, and take time for the next record that, maybe…just maybe, would more closely represent what fans so desparately want to hear from the soul man.  There have been some detours along the way, including the Broadway role of Teen Angel, that I simply did not agree with because it’s not my vision for the dude.  But, really…what do I know?

Oddly enough, Grease appears to have been the catalyst that provided some public acceptance and a bit of a springboard for, perhaps, a redemption of “America’s pick”.   Even though I still cringe at the notion of Taylor crooning out Beauty School Dropout, I can’t deny that it’s been good for his career.  Hey, it’s a mean to an end, I guess.  I have said all along, if the music is good, people will listen and all of the other extra-cirricular activities won’t mean a thing. 

That brings us to the release of Taylor Hicks’ new CD, The Distance.  I’ve been listening to it for a few days along with some other new music that I’ve been recently turned on to.  I wanted to give it a few days to simmer before I commented.  First, let me quench your curiosity and say that overall, this CD is MUCH better than the first release.

There’s a definite ease on this record that was absent on Taylor Hicks.  While that effort was frenetic, disjointed and a bit out of control, The Distance is thoughtful, balanced and comfortable.  It is very reminiscient of his pre-Idol work and shows that Taylor seems to be going “back” to his core, which is exactly what most people loved about him in the first place.  This should have been his Idol release, had they been smart.  The arrogance of greedy people who believe their “formula” for making a record and maximizing its profit never ceases to amaze me, but we continually see these dinosaurs take unique and genuine talent and turn them into something that is the opposite of what actually makes them appealing, and then scratching their head at its failure.

But, I digress…back to the review.

As I previously detailed, the first single, What’s Right is Right, is a simple, pleasing tune with a great video.  It’s currently doing well on AC radio and seems to be a happy medium between what’s expected from fans and what’s accepted by the industry. 

But what about the rest of the record?   Well, I think I get Taylor.  He is not just one style or one genre.  Like me, he likes a lot of different types and styles of music and I think that’s what he wanted this record to be.  Recently, he did a guest DJ spot on “My Turn” on 100.3 (Newport Beach, CA), no doubt as part of his promotion of this release (which I have to say is 200% better than the crack PR team at J Records and The Firm).  Whoever is in charge of promotion this time is doing a fabulous job.  Anyway, Taylor’s playlist for the hour long DJ stint is very telling.

St. Dominic’s PreviewVan Morrison
Gasoline Alley -Rod Stewart
How Long – Ace
Rainy Night In Georgia – Brook Benton
You Belong To Me – Carly Simon 
Hurricane Water – Citizen Cope
Foggy Mountain Breakdown – Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs
Where I’m From (Alabama Frame Of Mind)- Shelby Lynne
Life’s Been Good – Joe Walsh
Lowdown in Lodi – Freddie King
Something So Right – Paul Simon
Arc Of A Diver – Steve Winwood
Don’t Think TwiceSusan Tedeschi
I’m In Love – Wilson Pickett

To hear Taylor’s DJ skillz, click on the following player.

Now, I have to say that this was one of the most redeeming things I’ve heard from Taylor in a while.  It validated that the dude still has great music taste and still true to it.  Many of the songs on the new CD incorporate “sounds” from Taylor influences like Steve Winwood, Keb ‘Mo, Delbert McClinton, Van Morrison, and The Meters.  He signed on a quality producer in Simon Climie, who has produced Eric Clapton and who is an accomplished keyboardist and song writer in his own right.  In addition, some of Clapton’s touring band performed on the record, including Doyle Brahmall II and bassist Nathan East and was joined by Paul McCartney’s drummer, Abe Laboriel, Jr.

This is a quality record, with quality songs, musicians, and mixing.  I like it.  I have to say that it’s very entertaining and there are a few really good tracks on it.  If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Maybe You Should.  Written by Taylor and Nashville songwriter Gary Nicholson (who contributes on several songs), it is a great ballad that reminds me of Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me.  That could be because songwriter Michael Reid co-wrote both of them.  While I love Taylor’s raspy blues feel to this song, I could also see Keith Urban doing this song.

Along with Nineteen, Seven Mile Breakdown (co-penned with Hicks by Spoonful James’ guitarist and pre-Idol buddy, Wynn Christian) and the title-track, The Distance, Maybe You Should has serious Country potential, if appopriately brought to Nashville.  Even the blues number, Wedding Day Blues is oddly reminiscient of Garth Brooks’ Country anthem, Friends in Low Places.

While there’s certainly some Country influence, this CD is not a one trick twang pony.  One of my favorites, Keeping It Real, is influenced by co-author Delbert McClinton’s wily humor along with a great strider piano, New Orleans sound.  It’s also the ONLY track on the CD with a harmonica accompniment.  A pity, as I really dig the harp.

There’s also plenty of “soul” in the Nick Lowe cover, I Live on a Battlefield, and one of my all-time favorite tunes, Woman’s Gotta Have It, where he is accompanied by AI buddy, Elliott Yamin.  Now, Woman’s Gotta Have It is one on my Music Maven “All-Time Favorite” list, but James Taylor’s 1976 version from his In the Pocket CD which is, in my opinion, one of the best albums ever made — but that’s a different subject for a different day.  I really love the meshing of voices between Elliott and Taylor and especially Taylor harmonizing background vocal (fulfilling Simon’s ambition for him), but the beginning of JT’s version is more to my liking.  Got me to wondering what a combined version would sound like.  Hmmmm….

Once Upon a Lover and New Found Freedom are my “throw away” tracks.  I didn’t like the Latino sound of West Texas Sky and I don’t care for it on Once Upon a Lover.  New Found Freedom is more of an Idol “coronation” song that just doesn’t measure up to the other songs on the CD.   

The marketing plan of three “special tracks” via different store exclusives are in play for The Distance.  Wal-Mart offers the Ray Charles’ cover Hide Nor Hair, Target provides Indiscriminate Act of Kindness, and iTunes has Yes We Can, Can.  While I haven’t been able to sample Hide Nor Hair, Indiscriminate Act of Kindness reminds me of Taylor’s much heralded performance of the Ray classic, Georgia.  It is indulgent and very non-descript.  While I know this won’t be popular with the “Soul Patrol”, Indiscriminate Act of Kindness is NOT a song that exhibits Taylor Hicks’ talent nor is it a very appealing cut.  However, if you’re looking for a theme song about drug addiction and recovery, this is likely as good as it gets.

On the other hand, the iTunes “special”, Yes We Can is a veritable who’s who of funk & boogie.  Written by Allen Toussaint and covered by the likes of soul man, Marc Broussard and The Pointer Sisters, Yes We Can pays homage to the soul/zydeco/funk of the Southern Gulf Coast.  While Taylor may be considered the “forgotten idol”, the fact that Ivan Neville, Delbert McClinton and Stax legend, Steve Cropper provide back-up, indicates that “real” musicians “get” Taylor.  Even Marc Broussard couldn’t pull that off.

Music Maven gives Taylor Hicks’ The Distance  4 of 5 stars.   Buy it.

Redemption attained.

 

Music Maven’s Grammy Rundown

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Admittedly, The Grammys do not thrill me.  Unfortunately, moguls like Clive Davis’ seeming influence into the awards over the last few years leaves me very skeptical as to the nominations and the winners.

I mean, WHERE is Amos Lee?  Ray LaMontagne? 

However, in the spirit of Music comraderie, I made my own Grammy picks.  Personally, I think that they could cut out 2/3 of the categories and cut this puppy down to a half-hour show….but, whatever.  Here are the 2009 Music Maven Grammy picks.

Record of the year

  Please Read the Letter, Alison Krauss & Robert Plant

Mainly because Coldplay’s Viva La Vida is so over-played.

Album of the Year

Because of their revolutionary, “name your price” sales strategy….

  In Rainbows, Radiohead — Videotape track

Song of the Year

Only one choice for me…loved her from the start.  Remember, she debuted her 12-song DC (rather than CD) for $6.99 on iTunes.

  Love Song, Sara Bareilles

Best New Artist

For her ’60s vibe….

  Mercy, Duffy

If Katy Perry’s I Kissed a Girl wins anythings, I will never turn on a radio again.

In the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance category, I’m seriously torn between James Taylor’s Witchita Lineman and John Mayer’s thoroughly emotional Say, from The Bucket List.   However, I’m going to have to go with Sweet Baby James on this one.  The Glen Campbell kun-NECK-shun is just too strong.  The best song lyric of all time:

…and I want you more than need you, and I want you for all time.

‘Nuff said.

  Witchita Lineman, James Taylor

(Besides, Say wins a MM Grammy in another category — see below.)

Which, given the choices, leads me to Best Pop Album — JT’s Covers.  I was convinced by Seminole Wind and Not Fade Away.

I was intrigued by the nominations within the Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance (who comes up with these categories?) pitting Sir Paul McCartney’s Amoeba Record performance I Saw Her Standing There against John Mayer’s Gravity performance from Where the Light Is.  While I have great affinity for McCartney, the Where the Light Is video is superb and Gravity is one of my all-time favorite songs.  Therefore, the award goes to….

  Gravity, John Mayer

The only performance in the R&B categories that I feel is worry of any award is Wayne Brady’s Change is Gonna Come.  Yes, Wayne Brady of Who’s Line is it, Anyway? fame.

  A Change Gonna Come, Wayne Brady

However, I’d like to see Jennifer Hudson win a Grammy, just because she is that good and she deserves it.  Note:  she is the only American Idol alum nominated this year.

In the Country categories, only two nominations piqued my interest.  Brad Paisley’s nomination for Letter to Me in the Best Country Song category and The Del McCoury Band’s nomination for Best Bluegrass AlbumLive at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.  Love me some Del…

  Nashville Cats, Del McCoury Band

John Mayer’s Say is a lock for the Best Song Written for a Motion Picture.  I love this song, music & lyrics.

  Say, from The Bucket List, John Mayer

Miscellaneous Other favorites:

Best Traditional Gospel Album, Down in New Orleans, The Blind Boys of Alabama

Best Traditional Blues Album, Pinetop Perkins & Friends, 95 year old Pinetop Perkins, with a line-up of Blues royalty.

Best Contemporary Blues Album — THREE New Orleans acts; Dr. John, Irma Thomas and Marcia Ball.  Can they simply split a Grammy?

And, finally the BIG category….Best Zydeco or Cajun Album….drum roll please……

Music Maven picks……

  Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys

 

 

 

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Colette’s Corner: First Music or Music First?!?

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Sinatra.  Dylan.  The Fugees.

All can be found on President Obama’s iPod.  Much like his mixed heritage and diverse political ideals, Barack Obama appears to have broad musical tastes.

The initial Inauguration event on Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial featured Stevie Wonder, Jon Bon Jovi, Garth Brooks, Usher, Shakira, Mary J. Blige, Beyonce’, U2, James Taylor, John Mellencamp, Renee’ Fleming, John Legend, Jennifer Nettles, Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen, will.i.am, Josh Groban and Bettye LaVette.  Speaking of Bettye LaVette, she’s becoming a fixture in DC, having recently performed at the Lincoln Center Honors in homage to The Who.

I found her performance of Change Gone Come with Bon Jovi to be the highlight of Sunday’s event and likely the most appropriate for the occasion.  Somewhere Sam Cooke is smiling…

….and the beat goes on.  Mr. Obama’s inauguration events will include the Queen of Soul, herself, Ms. Aretha Franklin along with The Dead, Miley Cyrus, The Jonas Brothers, and Itzak Perlman will be a part of other inauguration festivities.

Colette chimes in with her own assessment of the First Music on this very historic day: 

Blue vs. red, left vs. right — no matter what political rivalries exist in this nation,  great music is something Americans of every stripe can share and take joy in.

Our new president is, it so happens, a music lover with wide-ranging tastes  which he revealed to Rolling Stone Magazine, Blender Magazine and other musical rags.   He listens to a lot of different artists, from jazzmen to rappers, John Coltrane to The Rolling Stones to Jay-Z.  And he adores Stevie Wonder, his wife’s favorite artist and a major supporter of campaign whose song “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” became Obama’s campaign anthem.

Here is Stevie Wonder — live at the 1008 Democratic National Convention, singing the beautiful song “Fear Can’t Put Dreams to Sleep” with Take 6, followed by Obama’s campaign theme song, “Signed, Sealed Delivered”  (starts at 7:00, when he says, “I gotta do this!” ).  One of Obama’s very favorite artists, and his wife’s musical god:

  — Stevie Wonder at the DNC 

Some presidents are more interested in music than others.  Pres. Clinton, for instance, had a big jazz summit at the White House.  And the first Pres. George Bush loved country music.  Kennedy appreciated classical music, and of course the Broadway musical “Camelot.”  From his interviews on the subject, Obama seems to be an ardent and knowledgeable pop fan, and he had a lot of top  musicians (from James Taylor & Bruce Springsteen, to Will.I.Am and John Legend) actively backing him with benefit concerts and campaign appearances.

Some of the songs that are Obama favorites, according to Blender, are: 

   Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On”  (live)

  Bob Dylan  “Maggie’s Farm”  (from Newport FOlk Festival, 1965)

  — Bruce Springsteen – “I’m on Fire” (Obama says he calls Bruce “The Boss”)

 -   The Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter”  (live in the 1960s)

  –  Nina Simone –  “Sinnerman”

  –   Frank Sinatra — “You’d Be So Easy to Love

Obama loves the Queen of Soul, and when he gave a speech in Detroit he began by singing a few bars of this song:

  — Aretha Franklin – “Chain of Fools”  (live) 

– “Think” (live) –  Another Aretha hit, which Obama says is on his iPod.

Thanks, Colette, for the submission.  I’ll conclude this post with the stirring rendition of Shower the People, performed at the Lincoln Memorial event by James Taylor, Jennifer Nettles and John Legend.

 “….I think it’s true what they say about the squeaky wheel always getting the grease”

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2009 in colette's corner, james taylor, Obama

 

Big Ole Jet Airliner, Don’t Carry Me Too Far Away

Sorry that I have been mindfully absent for a few days.  Over the last three weeks, I have been on an airplane more than on the ground, it seems.  Busy time of year in my business, but it’s all good.

Flying presents lots of contemplation time and while there’s a certain thrill of flying to far away cities to important meetings, that feeling generally fades about 10 minutes into my flight.  Then, I’m counting the hours until I’m home again.  The bustle of airports, rental cars, taxis and hotels wears on me much more now than when I was in my 20s and 30s.  My trusty iPod generally keeps me occupied and I usually have ample work to make the time pass more quickly, but each time I leave, I can’t wait to come home to my comfortable surroundings.  Yes, I am old.

However, I still am in awe of the wonderousness of being able to fly in the sky like an eagle.  God’s wonderous creation of sky and earth never ceases to amaze me and the views are just so cool.  Like the puffiness of the clouds on my way to Memphis right after Hurricane Gustav…

Or, the magnificent hues of blue that greeted me over Atlanta….

Or the most gorgeous sunset over Alabama on the final leg of my flight home from New York City, reassuring me that all was right with the world and God is in His heaven…

As the sun was setting, my naval gazing grew deep and I was reminded of the old sailor’s axiom,

Red sky by morning, sailor take warning….red sky by night, sailor’s delight.

There’s just something about being so high in the clouds that makes me so appreciative of the fact that I am so drawn home and “grounded”.

So, here’s a little tribute to those big ole jet airliners that take me back “where I belong”.

First, the late, great Paul Pena’s Jet Airliner.  Steve Miller made it popular, but it was the brillance of Paul Pena that captured feelings about flying to and fro.  The lyrics are pretty much perfect…

Leavin’ home, out on the road
I’ve been down before
Ridin’ along in this big ol’ jet plane
I’ve been thinkin’ about my home
But my love light seems so far away
And I feel like it’s all been done
Somebody’s tryin’ to make me stay
You know I’ve got to be movin’ on

Oh, Oh big ol’ jet airliner
Don’t carry me too far away
Oh, Oh big ol’ jet airliner
Cause it’s here that I’ve got to stay

Goodbye to all my friends at home
Goodbye to people I’ve trusted
I’ve got to go out and make my way
I might get rich you know I might get busted
But my heart keeps calling me backwards
As I get on the 707
Ridin’ high I got tears in my eyes
You know you got to go through hell
Before you get to heaven

Big ol’ jet airliner
Don’t carry me too far away
Oh, Oh big ol’ jet airliner
Cause it’s here that I’ve got to stay

Touchin’ down in New England town
Feel the heat comin’ down
I’ve got to keep on keepin’ on
You know the big wheel keeps on spinnin’ around
And I’m goin’ with some hesitation
You know that I can surely see
That I don’t want to get caught up in any of that
Funky shit goin’ down in the city

Big ol’ jet airliner
Don’t carry me too far away
Oh, Oh big ol’ jet airliner
Cause it’s here that I’ve got to stay

Oh, Oh big ol’ jet airliner
Don’t carry me too far away
Oh, Oh big ol’ jet airliner
Cause it’s here that I’ve got to stay
Yeah, yeah yeah, yeah

Big ol’ jet airliner
Don’t carry me too far away
Oh, Oh big ol’ jet airliner
Cause it’s here that I’ve got to stay

Oh, Oh big ol’ jet airliner
Carry me to my home
Oh, Oh big ol’ jet airliner
Cause it’s there that I belong

Paul changes up the lyrics a bit in this version done on the Conan O’Brien show shortly before his death…

  Jet Airliner, Paul Pena

While no other “airplane” song quite captures the essence of business flying, for me, here are a few other “flying” songs…

  Come Fly With Me, Frank Sinatra

….gotta love that “exotic booze in old Bombay”.  Here’s a lovely new twist on the old classic of Leaving on a Jet Plane…

  Leaving on a Jet Plane, Jewel

Of course, I have to include James Taylor’s perennial hit, Fire and Rain

  Fire and Rain, James Taylor

And, one of my favorite Tom Petty songs is Learning to Fly (even though it’s really not about airplane flying)…

  Learning to Fly, Tom Petty

 

 

 

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Old Dog….New Tricks

For months now, I have been receiving James Taylor’s monthly newsletter. Click on the link to be directed to JT’s newsletter library. They are informative and entertaining.  June’s newsletter talks about “shed” tours and the richness of the artists who are currently touring with the wily grandfather.

He also goes into detail a couple of times about affordable tickets and trying to ensure that people who want to see him/them have the opportunity to do so.  It’s evident that JT’s career is more about the music than the money.

Now, this is not a new concept but admittedly, JT isn’t usually correlated with new and progressive music marketing and promotion.  However, he hasn’t survived and thrived in the biz for the last 40 years simply waiting for Carole King to write him another hit.

At least JT has some vision and is adapting to the new world. While not earth-shattering, in itself, his newsletters show his desire to embrace new approaches and technologies to “kuneck” with his fans….you know, folks that have been following him for 30 to 40 years.

If an icon like James Taylor gets it, you’d think younger, supposedly “hipper” artists would too.

Added bonus: JT performing his non-conventional rendition of The Star Spangled Banner at Game 1 of the NBA Championship.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2008 in james taylor, music biz

 
 
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