The good copies REALLY ROCK on a song like Honey Don’t Leave L.A. or I Was Only Telling A Lie, yet have lovely, sweet transparency and delicacy on the ballads such as Another Grey Morning or There We Are.
Just turn up the volume and play the opening to Honey Don’t Leave L.A. — this is James Taylor and his super tight studio band at the peak of their powers. Russ Kunkel hits the drum twice, then clicks his sticks together so quickly you can hardly notice it, then goes back to the drums for the rest of the intro. On a superb copy like this one, the subtleties of his performance are clearly on display. (Until copies like this one came along, we had never even noticed that stick trick. Now it’s the high point of the whole intro!)
Sound Equals Music
As audiophiles we all know that sound and music are inseparable. After dropping the needle on a dozen or so copies, all originals by the way, you KNOW when the music is working its magic and when it’s not. As with any pop album there are always some songs that sound better than others, but when you find yourself marvelling at how well-written and well-produced a song is, you know that the sound is doing what it needs to do. It’s communicating the Musical Values of the material.
The most important of all these Musical Values is ENERGY, and boy do the best copies have it!
In-Depth Track Commentary
Your Smiling Face
Our favorite test track for side one. The best copies have bass and drums that are hard to beat!
There We Are
Honey Don’t Leave L.A.
One of the toughest tests for side one is the sax solo in this song. You want the sax to be breathy and full with just the right amount of bite. If it doesn’t have enough bite, the sound is going to be overly smooth elsewhere.
Another Grey Morning
You’ll almost always be battling at least a bit of surface noise on this quiet track. On the best copies the sound will be tubey-magical, with plenty of warmth, richness, and sweetness.
Secret O’ Life
The strings on Handy Man are a key test for us in our shootouts. Most of the time they are smeary and hard, lacking the rosiny texture of the real thing. When you chance upon good string tone it’s pretty obvious, and sure enough most everything else — vocals, guitars, drums — will tend to sound better as well.On the better Hot Stamper copies, which typically means those with the most transparency, Leah Kunkel’s background vocals will be clear and breathy-sweet, allowing you to follow each of her multi-tracked vocal lines.
I Was Only Telling a Lie
Looking for Love on Broadway
A personal JT Favorite [of Tom’s!] On the hottest copies it is absolutely a Demo Disc Quality track.
If I Keep My Heart Out of Sight
Val Garay Is The Man
VAL GARAY is the man behind so many of our favorite recordings: James Taylor’s JT (a Top 100 title), Simple Dreams (also a Top 100 title), Andrew Gold, Prisoner In Disguise, etc. They all share his trademark super-punchy, jump-out-the-speakers, rich and smooth ANALOG sound. With BIG drums — can’t forget those. (To be clear, only the best copies share it. Most copies only hint at it.)
I don’t think Mr Garay gets anything like his due with audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them. This is a shame; the guy makes Demo Disc Quality Pop Records about as good as those kinds of records can be made. If you have a Big System that really rocks you owe it to yourself to get to know his work. This is truly a KNOCKOUT disc if you have the equipment for it. We do, and it’s records like this that make the effort and expense of building a full-range dynamic system worthwhile.
The Best Later James Taylor Music
Musically this is one of Taylor’s best. Every track is good and many are wonderful. There are five or six James Taylor records that are Desert Island Discs for me. I know they probably wouldn’t let me take six of the same artists’ records to my island, but I would hope they would make an exception for James Taylor, because his albums really do set a standard that those of few other singer/songwriters can meet.
Start with Sweet Baby James, the first album (which we can’t find for you because only the British ones sound good and they are just to hard to find in clean condition) and JT. The next group to pursue would contain Mud Slide Slim, One Man Dog and Dad Loves His Work, and then maybe Flag.