James Taylor / Gorilla – A Soft Rock Favorite from 1975

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This is soft rock at its best, made up primarily of love songs, and helped immensely by the harmonically-gifted backing vocals of Graham Nash and David Crosby.

Rolling Stone notes that “With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues.”

If you are not a fan of the mellow James Taylor this is not the album for you. I just happen to be such a fan.

Taylor’s sixth album contains consistently engaging, well-produced, well-written, memorable, singable (or hummable) songs that hold up to this day.

After enjoying it for more than 45 years I can honestly say now it actually sounds good. The recording finally makes sense, now that I have the stereo that can play it and the cleaning system that could get the record truly clean. And it only took 35 years — nice!

At Better Records that’s what we’re talking about when we talk about progress. Make no mistake, it is very REAL. When we take a recording that, on copy after copy, never sounded much better than passable, and actually get it to sound musical and involving, that’s not an illusion. It’s the result of the countless Revolutions in Audio that we’ve participated in. Without the hundreds of changes we’ve made to our stereo, room and cleaning systems, old records would just sound like old records.

The average copy is so flat, lifeless and hard sounding that you might just wonder if there isn’t something wrong with your stereo when the needle hits the Gorilla groove. Most copies are awful, and the same goes for the albums that came before it and after it, Walking Man and In the Pocket, respectively.

This record does not sound like just an old record, not this copy anyway.


Side One

How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) 
You Make It Easy

Side Two

I Was A Fool To Care 
Angry Blues 
Love Songs 
Sarah Maria

Rolling Stone Review

James Taylor pretty much wrote the book for the singer/songwriters of the Seventies. That may be a dubious distinction but Taylor’s early work, characterized by subdued singing and restrained, clean backings, was also marked by an undercurrent of extreme agitation and angst. It was this sense of powerful emotions barely held in check that gave Taylor’s music its dramatic tension. When that undercurrent diminished and disappeared after the definitive Sweet Baby James, Taylor’s music lost its urgency. Thus began a gradual process of personal reorientation and musical redefinition. The most fascinating part of Taylor’s more recent albums has been their suggestion of a search for a new raison d’être.

With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues. David Crosby and Graham Nash add their fluent harmonies to Taylor’s sleepy-voiced leads in the panoramic “Lighthouse” and the delightful “Mexico,” both of which make intelligent use of country-rock elements. More central to the album, though, are Taylor’s soul-based songs, “Music,” “You Make It Easy” and “I Was a Fool to Care.”

The inclusion of a relaxed rendition of the Marvin Gaye hit, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” is an indirect acknowledgement to this great singer, surely a primary source of inspiration for the new Taylor who shares Gaye’s sense of romantic languor. “You Make It Easy,” a terrific soul ballad with a classic theme — the lure of adultery — makes this comparison with particular clarity.

The Newmark-Weeks rhythm section, David Sanborn’s saxophone, Clarence McDonald’s piano and a full-blown string section push Taylor to the most overtly urgent vocal he’s ever recorded. “Music” isn’t a particularly strong piece of material but the introduction of a pedal steel into an airy, limber arrangement reminiscent (thanks to Weeks and Newmark) of Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” gives the track more than a little charm, nevertheless. “I Was a Fool to Care” evolves from a typical guitar-plunking Taylor tune into a big, vibrant and convincing love song. This last tune and “You Make It Easy” are sure to sprout cover versions before long.

Taylor is too cool and contemplative to become the singer/songwriter sector’s answer to Gaye but the influence has given Taylor new life by placing a healthy dose of happy eroticism (what’s that about the sugar cane, James?) into the space vacated by his dark melancholy.

Bud Scoppa
July 17, 1975