Sunday, November 20, 2011
JAMES TAYLOR-ONE MAN DOG
Occupying a curious position in the JT discography, One Man Dog ended up a top five disc following its release in late 1972, though critics and fans were divided in their estimations.
Intended to be a loose song suite, in the fashion of the long medley that graces the back nine of Abbey Road, there is no heavy underlying concept at work. What I hear is the artist, entrenched in his home studio, bringing in some very talented friends and saying, “Here’s the tune, the meter isn’t running, so we’ll play and see where this goes.” The ultra-slick, high production values that would soon become an integral part of the sunny, California sound in the mid 70s are, mercifully, not in place here. This is not to say that it is sloppily executed, as the record sounds great (especially in vinyl format) and the playing/singing is first rate.
The general mood, set by the opener ("One Man Parade") is one of ebullience. One can almost picture Taylor hunched over his acoustic, finger-picking the intro and then leaping to his feet to march around singing, swept up in his own joyous noise. It is this sense of fun which has a positive impact on the material, which is melodic and inventive. For a writer whose subject matter had generally tended toward the darker side of life, a tune like “Chili Dog” is definitely a 180 degree turn away from “Fire and Rain”.
Don't read me no Ann Landers/Don't feed me no Colonel Sanders
That sense of humor extends to the sonic dimension of the project as he pulls off the most clever deployment of saws (both chain and hand) on record in the link between "Fanfare" and "Little David".
There are passages that have a slightly jazzy feel and others have a gospel inflection, though “relaxed” is the best overall descriptor. No one expects speed metal tempos from a JT album nor do they happen here. Reminiscent of McCartney's first solo effort in terms of the brevity of certain songs and the fact that he tosses in a couple of instrumentals, Taylor earns points for trying his hand at something different with the attempt to weld these fragments together. Perhaps listeners at that time saw this as "unfinished" when compared to his last two releases.
“Don’t Let me Be Lonely Tonight” was the obvious choice for a single, though that shouldn't stop you from enjoying the rest.
Produced by Peter Asher, featuring scads of guests, this is one forgotten gem that begs to be heard on vinyl, if at all possible.