A Musicares Person Of The Year Tribute
Honoring James Taylor

Various Artists

Every year, the GRAMMY association’s charity arm designed to provide aid to musicians and people of the musical community – Musicares – honors a musician whose contributions to the music go beyond writing and performing memorable tunes. It’s a lifetime achievement award, of sorts, and in 2006 Musicares honored singer-songwriter James Taylor as its Person of the Year for his contributions to popular music and the musical community. There’s no doubt that Taylor is one of the most successful and gifted talents to come out of the 70’s songwriting generation, and he has provided the music community with a body of work that remains vital 30 years later. In order to properly honor such an artist, Musicares staged a star-studded gala, and packed the stage full of big names ready to pay tribute. The backing band featured some of the best talent in the industry including session legends Steve Gadd (drums), Michael Landau (guitar), and Jimmy Johnson (bass).

The companion DVD, A Musicares Person of the Year Tribute Honoring James Taylor, features performances of Taylor’s material by his friends, contemporaries, and those who have been influenced by him. Artists include old friends Carole King, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Taj Mahal, Dr. John, Sting, David Crosby, and Jackson Browne, in addition to new talents like Sheryl Crowe, India.Arie, the Dixie Chicks, Keith Urban, and Alison Krauss. In between songs we see Taylor sitting, somewhat uncomfortably, in the middle of the audience, giving the occasional wave, wink, and nod. We’re primarily left longing to see him where he’s most comfortable — on stage.

There is no shortage of love and affection flowing through the hall, and while the performances are sometimes effective, as a whole the show is uneven and plodding. The Dixie Chicks start things off in fine fashion with a devoted performance of “Shower the People,” and Bonnie Raitt’s soulful followup performance of the lesser-known Taylor gem “Rainy Day Man” promises an enjoyable couple of hours, but things fall flat thereafter. India.Arie’s silky-smooth voice sounds fine on “Secret O’Life,” but the performance is slow and uninspired. By the time Crosby, Crowe, and Brown muddle through “Mexico,” not even solid performances by Bruce Springsteen and Allison Krauss can completely salvage the evening. The bizarre attempt by Cheech Marin to roast Taylor falls flat and, as he shuffled off stage, seemed odd and out of place in a room so full of respect and admiration. Performances by Keith Urban, Sting, and Taj Mahal are workmanlike, well meaning, and ultimately uninspiring.

Perhaps the most disappointing element of the DVD is the fact that we have to wait until the very end to hear the man himself. Taylor doesn’t take the stage until halfway through a rough-hewn Carole King performance of “You’ve Got a Friend” and then only sticks around for a few tunes. It would have been better to see all of these talents singing with Taylor, instead of to him. While it may be unreasonable to expect a guy to have to work on a night in which he’s being honored, it would have made for a more enjoyable viewing.

Having said all this, the entire event was arranged for a good cause, and proceeds from DVD sales will be used by Musicares to help musicians in need, providing a safety net for those with financial, medical, and personal emergencies. Fans of Taylor would do well to purchase a copy as a documentary of the effect that this gifted musician has on his industry and peers. As an entertainment piece, however, it leaves much to be desired.

~ Andrew Todd

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