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Country Road: An Acoustic Tribute To James Taylor
Artist: Various Artists 
Label: CMH Records and Vitamin Records
Length: 12 songs 

Country Road: An Acoustic Tribute To James Taylor is pleasant enough for the average music lover. However, if--like this reviewer--you fancy yourself  a passionate JT fan; if you own every album, if you know every word, beat and breath of his songs, or if the thought of JT's most loved tunes being done with accordion, concertina, mandolins and (heaven help us) five string banjo makes your skin crawl, you might find this collection a touch abrasive to your ear. 

Without mentioning by name that well-known company which produces sterile department store, instrumental versions of popular tunes, this would be a step above that in quality. In truth, even for the JT purist, a handful of songs are actually enjoyable. The overall problem is the ubiquitous overuse of just about every member of the mandolin family (the album credits list "mandolin, mandola, mandocello and octave mandolin" and, admittedly, this reviewer would not know the sound of one from the other). These mandolins lend a decidedly Latin, and sometimes Mediterranean, feel to some songs, which creates a bit of a bizarre juxtaposition. Don't get me wrong, I like mandolins as much as the next guy, but one does not expect to hear America's favorite singer/songwriter's material presented as though it was recorded in the canals of Venice or at a local Italian restaurant. The somewhat  pervasive, rapidly strummed "vibrato" of mandolins is in evidence on nearly every song to the extent of being annoying. (mandolin) 

The underlying acoustic guitar, which can be heard on some tracks better than others, is surprisingly close to the real songs in some cases, and is actually quite well done. It's unfortunate that one or more other instruments that play the vocal melody covered this up. (mandolin) I'd love to hear this album without these "vocal tracks." 

There are some fairly done pieces, however, which even rabid JT fans can tolerate as background music without too much effort. (mandolin) The CD starts off with a surprisingly pleasant rendition of "Mexico." The universal mandolin use, including the substitution of what would be the vocal track by what sounds like another mandolin, actually works here, lending a slightly more Latin atmosphere than the original. Even die-hards should not be bothered by this one. 

"Shower The People" comes across quite passably, and "You Can Close Your Eyes" is also tolerable even for purists. The substitution of harmonica for the vocal track on "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" makes this version fairly close to great, and is probably the best piece on the CD. (mandolin) "Riding On A Railroad" is served well by fiddle and banjo in the background. Of course, using an acoustic guitar for the vocal track would have been preferable to the mandolin. 

There is only one song done so terribly as to be truly inexcusable and offensive to even the most casual James Taylor fan. "Me and My Guitar" (a fun nonsensical tune which some readers may recognize from the double live CD and from Taylor's 1974 release WalkingMan) is nothing short of completely butchered.  (mandolin) It is difficult to imagine what would posses anyone to perform a song--about a GUITAR for Pete's sake--with a BANJO. This would be akin to, "Hmmm, I know, let's paint a copy of Whistler's Mother, but...uh...let's make her a guy!" The scariest part is that more than one person thought this was actually a good idea. Sorry. No. Don't be ridiculous. Next caller please... 

If you are looking for basic background music, this will do. James Taylor lovers will probably want to pass. If you merely like JT and think you might want some more of his music, please just go get more of HIS music instead. (mandolin) 

By the way, were you annoyed by all the (mandolins) in this review? You'll be at least as annoyed by hearing them on this album! 

      You Can Close Your Eyes 
      Shower The People 
      Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight 
      Riding On A Railroad 
      Me And My Guitar 
      Sunny Skies 
      Fire And Rain 
      Country Road 
      Anywhere Like Heaven 
      Sweet Baby James 

S. A. Smith 4/29/2001

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