James Taylor brings his beloved pop-folk blend to Vegas
There hasn’t been a more appropriate time for James Taylor to soothe the down and troubled since his first hit “Fire and Rain” peaked at No. 3 the week ending Halloween 1970. The country was spooked at the time, shaken by an ongoing war and divisions in politics and culture, while the recent deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin haunted the pop music world. Taylor had lost a friend to suicide, and expressed it in an opening lyric that anyone experiencing bereavement could relate to: “Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone.”
The song, from Taylor’s second album Sweet Baby James, introduced themes of loss, loneliness, inner strength and solidarity that struck a chord with the public and threaded through his songwriting. Folk rock didn’t need to solely draw on the world outside; it could look within for something relatable. “Fire and Rain” solidified his future as a professional musician, but the title cut from Sweet Baby James, a concert staple today, didn’t chart.
Taylor already had two self-care stints in Massachusetts’ McLean Hospital, where poets Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell had received psychiatric treatment. The stays were beneficial for Taylor, although his second prevented him from promoting his self-titled debut album released by The Beatles’ Apple Records in 1968. A drug habit he picked up while playing with his pre-solo band The Flying Machine would affect his life or years to come, but by 1971 he went to No. 1 with a cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.”
Taylor’s effect on listeners, his musical helping hand, was profound enough for him to maintain a fervent mass following for nearly 50 years, convincing Caesars Palace to book him a dozen dates for his first extended engagement at The Colosseum with His All-Star Band. He comes to Las Vegas hot off a critically acclaimed tour with Bonnie Raitt, during which the two closed out shows with a duet of “You Can Close Your Eyes.”
Whether Raitt pays a surprise visit during one of Taylor’s Colosseum shows remains to be seen, but his current band includes members that have made music with him since the early ’90s, with backing vocalist Arnold McCuller’s involvement dating back to 1977. Taylor had just scored hits with “Handy Man” and “Your Smiling Face,” two songs he’s been playing as part of the sets of his 2019 concerts. It’s a good bet he’ll open shows with one of his earliest compositions, “Carolina in My Mind,” which he wrote while overseas recording for Apple.
That song features Paul McCartney on bass and an uncredited George Harrison on backing vocals. Taylor’s own voice is as soothingly mellow and his fingers still as nimble as when he first recorded “Something in the Way She Moves,” which influenced Harrison’s No. 1 song “Something.” Taylor has an indirect influence on the pop charts today as well, thanks to Taylor Swift’s parents, but it’s his own ability to search inwardly to discover music that can brighten the darkest nights of listeners that make him relevant today.
Caesars Palace 7:30 p.m. April 17, 19-20, 24 & 26-27, starting at $55 plus tax and fee. 866.227.5938