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Review: Greg Phillips Photos: Jason Rosewarne
Margaret Court Arena Tuesday April 16

Sometimes when life’s coming at you from all angles, you just want to sit down, put on a warm analogue James Taylor record from the seventies and chill out. It’s comforting to know that during such a heartbreaking week in Australia (particular in Sydney) and with so much sadness overhanging the world, that the Grammy Award-winning, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee is in town to calm us all down collectively. The world needs the James Taylors of the world more than ever to unlock treasured memories, bring a smile to our dials and put a spring back into our step.

At Margaret Court Arena at the first of two Melbourne shows,  James Taylor and his fabulous band not only delivered the life soundtrack to many in the audience but also related some fascinating stories from his own history. Beginning the show with Something In the Way She Moves, a track he wrote in 1968, James told us that he’d played the song to Paul McCartney and George Harrison at Abbey Road studios and “George liked it so much, he went home and wrote it himself!” As the night progressed it became apparent that The Beatles had played a huge part in the foundation of his music career, first by signing him to their Apple label and then of course as a major musical influence.

Taylor followed up with Rainy Day Man, a song he recorded on both his debut self-titled album and ninth studio album Flag. In a night of two sets, the first hour consisted of songs found deep in his catalogue. Yellow and Rose, he told us was written about Australia, inspired by the book A Fatal Shore, written by local literary figure Robert Hughes. Country Road gave us an opportunity to wonder at the drumming skills of Dr Steve Gadd and enjoy guitar great Dean Parks’ (Steely Dan, America, Michael Buble, Joe Cocker, Aaron Neville) deft touch on the pedal steel.

A wonderful fiddle intro, courtesy of Andrea Zonn led us into Sweet Baby James signalling the first of many of his more celebrated songs. As audience members shouted out requests, Taylor in his dry-witted way picked up an oversized card from the floor which featured the set list and laid their fears to rest suggesting that all their favourites were coming up after the interval.

True to his word, Carolina in My Mind commenced the second set and opened the floodgate of hits. The tempo ramped up with Mexico from his 1975 album Gorilla featuring the full force of this incredible group of musicians. Playing with this band must be like sliding on a pair of comfortable slippers for Taylor, from the get-go they’re in the pocket and their playing is as smooth as silk. Drummer Steve Gadd is such a guiding light, hitting his kit with such intent and every beat is so decisive, spurring the band on to greater heights with his energy and percussive adventure. All the while Jimmy Johnson (Allan Holdsworth, Steve Gadd Band, Elton John) on bass is by his side holding down a steady bottom line. Strapping on a Telecaster, his jam with Dean Parks on Steamroller Blues was a highlight. Fire and Rain obviously enticed a huge cheer from the audience, who by now had found their own voice. The backing vocals on Shower The People from Kate Markowitz, Dorian Holly, Andrea Zonn and now joined by Taylor’s wife Caroline, were impeccable. You’ve Got A Friend had the audience joining the chorus too. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) had everyone on their feet before the band headed offstage for a final breather.

Returning once again, the vocalists all gathered together for a chilling version of Shed a Little Light, accompanied initially only by Kevin Hays’ beautiful piano notes, then joined by some thrilling cymbal work from Gadd, the song came to a stirring end which left many in the audience gasping at the pure beauty of the performance. Knowing a thing or two about show dynamics, Taylor then launched into a joyous version of Your Smiling Face. The audience rose to their feet and encouraged one more from Taylor, the gorgeous You Can Close Your Eyes from 1971’s Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon album.

James Taylor has sold more than 100 million albums, has won multiple GRAMMY Awards, has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll and the prestigious Songwriters Halls of Fame, was also awarded the distinguished Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government and the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama in 2012. In November of 2015, Taylor was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation’s highest civilian honour and in December of 2016 he received the Kennedy Center Honours. In performance he can also make you dance and cry. Taylor plays Margaret Court Arena again tonight before heading to Adelaide and Sydney. If you are a true fan of quality music and able to get to one of these shows and you don’t, you’re an idiot.

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Set 1:
Something in the Way She Moves
Rainy Day Man
That’s Why I’m Here
Yellow and Rose
Anywhere Like Heaven
Never Die Young
Country Road
Sweet Baby James
Handy Man
Sun on the Moon

Set 2:
Carolina in My Mind
Fire and Rain
Up on the Roof
(Carole King cover)
Shower the People
You’ve Got a Friend
How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)


Shed a Little Light
Your Smiling Face
You Can Close Your Eyes

Kate Markowitz- vocals
Dorian Holly – vocals
Andrea Zonn – vocals/fiddle
Dean Parks – guitars
Steve Gadd-drums
Jimmy Johnson – bass
Kevin Hays- keys

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