James Taylor: Covers

Music Reviews James Taylor
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James Taylor: <em>Covers</em>

These songs deserve better than this clumsy treatment

Throughout his 40-year career, James Taylor has been interpreting others’ songs in his inimitably laidback style, but with mixed results: For every “You’ve Got a Friend” there’s a “Steamroller Blues.” Covers is his first album devoted to nothing but other people’s music and, unsurprisingly, it’s marked by his same strengths and weaknesses, not to mention some intrusive backing vocals and superlatively bland production. Taylor fares poorly when whitewashing old R&B hits like Junior Walker’s “(I’m A) Road Runner” and “Hound Dog,” but sounds slightly more convincing on country hits like Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” and George Jones’ “Why Baby Why.” His bright, easygoing voice hasn’t lost its comforting tone, but Taylor’s phrasing and expressiveness have gone mushy, which drains Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” of all its gravity and dark desire. Worst of all is his closing cover of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” which can’t fade fast enough.