Picks and Pans Review: Never Die Young

updated 03/07/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/07/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

James Taylor

Sweet Baby James has turned into old J.T. without losing the honesty, wit and bemused self-examination that have made his music so communicative and enjoyable. Not that he has always been the cheeriest of personalities. While this album is typically loose and full of beautifully turned rhythmic phrases (no pop composer uses the rhythm of words better), it is a thorny bed of roses. Some lines from a couple of songs: "Steer clear of royal welcomes/ Avoid a big to-do/ A king who would slaughter the innocents/ Will not cut a deal for you." "How come I miss what I never knew/ And drag out the past just to paint it blue." What has always relieved the potential maudlin themes in Taylor's records, though, is a shrugging, being-ironic-through-the-apocalypse sense of humor. So that now, at almost 40, he can make a protestation of love out of the lines, "I lost my teeth, I lost my hair/ I lost my mind, you don't care." This album has more Caribbean touches than usual for Taylor, and there's a nice bluesy turn on Baby Boom Baby, with Michael Brecker honking out a tenor sax solo, and the countrified Runaway Boy, featuring Mark O'Connor's fiddle. Taylor fans may regret that, counter to his habit, he hasn't covered an old R&B hit on this LP. There are worse things, though, than to be stuck with a bunch of new Taylor songs: lively, smart, a uniquely grownup kind of pop music. (Columbia)

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