Road Trips with Jason Crane: My Favorite James Taylor Album

I recently visited Berkshire County, Massachusetts, which is where I’m from originally. The county is home to some famous folks, including Arlo Guthrie and Yo-Yo Ma. Probably its most famous resident, though, is James Taylor. In addition to making his home there, he also records there and puts on a big show (or series of shows) every summer at Tanglewood, a performing arts center in my hometown. I thought this week I’d tell you about my favorite JT album and highlight a few lesser-known tracks that are very much worth your time.

Although I love many James Taylor albums, and will always have a particular place in my heart for New Moon Shine, my all-time favorite is Gorilla. It’s a songwriting and arranging masterpiece from start to finish. This 1975 album had two major hits: “Mexico” and a cover of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” Both of those were in the Billboard top five. But it’s some of the other songs on the album that I’d like to play for you today.

Wandering

Let’s not mess around. I’m going to start with my favorite song on the album. This song is just heart-meltingly gorgeous, with multi-tracked vocals by JT and some gorgeous accordion work by Nick DeCaro, who also did the album’s string arrangements. This is one of those wistful songs that hits me in different ways at different times in my life. Now that I’m living in a van, the line, “And it don’t look like / I’ll ever stop my wandering” is more poignant than ever.

Gorilla

Yes, that’s a video of me playing this song back in March of 2013. I was living in Auburn, Alabama at the time and I bought a ukulele and learned to play a few of my faves, including the title track from this album. I’m not saying I’m giving James any real competition, but what the heck, it’s fun.

You Make It Easy

I’ve interviewed one person who plays on this album: saxophonist David Sanborn. He does great work on this track. You might also know David from his regular appearances with David Letterman’s band over the years, or from his solos with, oh, everyone ever in the world of pop and R&B.

I’ll stop here because honestly I love every song on the album and you should just listen to the whole thing.

Oh, and I have a correction from last week’s column. I said the Spinners were part of the Philadelphia soul scene. As an astute reader pointed out, and I should have remembered, they’re from Detroit.