- Friday, August 24, 2012
Artist: Ben Taylor
Label: Sun Pedal Recordings
Ben Taylor, 35, is the son of 1970s singer-songwriter power couple James Taylor and Carly Simon. Such ancestry is no doubt a blessing and a curse. Who could deny the free equipment and priceless concert-opening opportunities? And yet critics may assume family ties led to his having a record deal and be less apt to take him seriously.
But let's get past all that, because the truth is: Ben Taylor has a fine gift; looking and sounding like his father is a natural occurrence; and his fourth proper studio album, Listening, is certainly worth hearing—especially if you like Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, or that guy who told us to shower the people we love with love.
There's unique poetic reflection in the opening title track, a folksy acoustic guitar, organ, and clarinet arrangement that ponders the weight of the world (everybody's busy helping themselves and not listening . . . so much talking the point disappears).
With great aplomb, Ben embraces his dad's achievements and welcomes him for a cameo appearance on the endearing "Oh Brother." The familiar-feeling pop song gives a shout out to that good old time JT music, nods to a line from "You've Got a Friend" (you don't need anything but life and faith, and you can always call out my name), and, in a nice generational twist, was written to the younger Taylor's twin 11-year-old half-brothers.
Anyone wishing for new JT music (he hasn't issued an album of newly recorded originals since 2002's October Road), would be wise to soak in Listening's mix of fresh ideas and genetic charms. Ben's "Giulia" has the post-60s pick-up folk flavor of his father's improvisational One Man Dog record while "Vespa's Song" matches the sultry ‘70s feel of In the Pocket. "Not Alone," is a minimal expression with maximum impact, a sparse keyboard/drum machine tune of encouragement that would have fit well in the early ‘80s.
Listening switches gears toward the end for three reggae tracks. It isn't the smoothest transition, but each piece is enjoyable unto itself. "America" is a deceptively mellow blend of political tension. "Dirty" fattens up the Jamaican dancehall sound with more electronics and guest toasting. "You Could Be Mine" is a simple song of love and hope.
Approach Listening with the same easy spirit Ben Taylor exhibits in this folk-pop and reggae. Don't over think; just enjoy.
*This Review First Published 8/24/2012
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