Sound — 8
One Man Band is James Taylor's latest effort, a live recording from the Colonial Theatere in Pittsfield, MA intended to (in Taylor's own words) "get back to basics and present the songs in their original form". Whether or not he accomplishes this is debatable, but there is plenty here for Taylor fans to enjoy. No doubt, many people are asking, "How much more can you strip down a James Taylor song?" It's a fair question. The answer, in many cases, is not much. "Something in the Way She Moves", "You Can Close Your Eyes", "Sweet Baby James", and "Fire and Rain" are all here, and they all sound pretty much the way we remember them from the early-to-mid 70s. That said, don't let the the title of One Man Band fool you. Taylor plays almost every song with the help of Larry Goldings on keyboard, and occasionally makes use of a drum machine and recorded vocals to replace the drummer and singers he is going without.
Lyrics — 9
There is little need to critique Taylor's songwriting here. One Man Band is composed largely of Taylor's well-known hits. Besides his hits from the '70's, listeners will hear three songs from Taylor's 1991 platinum-seller New Moon Shine and a couple other more contemporary selections. Taylor's songs are as potent as ever, and his voice is almost as strong at 59 as it was at 29. The only complaint one might make about Taylor's singing is that he never sings a song the same way twice. This becomes most evident in more energetic songs like "Country Road", whose melody is ornamented almost beyond recognition in some places, and "Steamroller Blues", which Taylor tries to sing like a '60s electric blues rocker. Taylor has proven many times over that his voice is fully capable of stepping outside it's velvety box for the occasional real rock tune, but here it sounds like he might be trying a little too hard.
Overall Impression — 8
If Taylor really wanted to get back to his solo roots, he could have done a better job of it. As mentioned above, the most stripped-down songs we hear on One Man Band are those quintessential Taylor ballads that were mellow acoustic tunes to begin with. When presented with opportunities to show us the bare bones of his songwriting on songs we know better as full band numbers, Taylor largely balks and indulges in extras. "My Traveling Star", for instance, is done with a whole recorded chorus in the background. "Slap Leather" is transformed into a Beck-esque blues fusion number, sung into a megaphone and accompanied by a Hammond organ and a drum machine, the latter of which makes for an interesting visual effect on the accompanying DVD but just sounds clunky and loud on the CD. The one time One Man Band really accomplishes it's stated mission is on the second track, "Never Die Young". This performance is a jewel, a beautifully simplified arrangement which allows Taylor's smooth voice to speak for itself without the backup singers we remember, and pushes his guitar into the spotlight where it was originally just one instrument among a whole band full. Despite all the aforementioned criticims, One Man Band is a genuinely good performance by one of pop music's true legends. The vocals and the guitar are as good as we have come to expect from Taylor, and the song selection mannages to deliver most of the old favorites without reducing Taylor to a nostaliga act. Even if One Man Band doesn't really deliver what it promises, it is a fine recording in it's own right, and will keep Taylor fans humming and tapping their toes from beginning to end.