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Picks and Pans Review: October Road

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James Taylor (Columbia)

Album of the Week

How sweet it is to hear James Taylor again—his voice still remarkably pure, untouched by the years—on his first studio album since 1997’s Grammy-winning Hourglass. The singer-songwriter travels smoothly down a familiar Road, revisiting the minimalist sound of his ’70s heyday with acoustic-based arrangements highlighted by his ever-lyrical guitar. Many of these songs would fit right alongside such comforting oldies as 1972’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.” Some, including a splendid rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” have a light jazz swing, while others (such as the title tune, featuring by Cooder on guitar) have a more rootsy feel. On the antiwar number “Belfast to Boston” Taylor experiments with such Irish sounds as bagpipes and pennywhistle. But it is on folksy, gentle gems like “Baby Buffalo” (one of two tracks featuring Sally Taylor, his daughter with ex-wife Carly Simon, on background vocals) that this man remains at his handiest.

Bottom Line: Taylor-made for fans