december 2009

James Taylor
Released: 2006

A thoroughly engaging, warm-hearted affair, James Taylor At Christmas trades on JT's friendly tenor and some low-key, jazz-tinged arrangements by producer/arranger Dave Grusin in evoking a mellow Yuletide season with (mostly) good tidings to all. Grusin makes ample and effective use of woodwinds, strings and a personable mixed gender vocal trio to emphasize the cozy, fireside nature of "Winter Wonderland" (which features hot trumpeter Chris Botti in an atmospheric solo turn) and a winsome "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Natalie Cole drops by for a smile-inducing flirtation with JT, who's workin' it on a gently shuffling version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," and that most inventive of harmonica virtuosos, the great Toots Thielemans, adds angular, introspective solos to a string-rich arrangement of Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song." For a change of pace, a folk trio of Taylor (on guitar), Grusin (on piano) and Dave Carpenter (on bass) offers Joni Mitchell's "River" as a spare, melancholic seasonal heartbreaker; and backed by only pianist Grusin and a string section, Taylor is quietly commanding on a reverent musical interpretation of Alfred Burt's poem "Some Children See Him," which ponders Jesus as youngsters of various races see him. That song launches a powerful four-tune climax to the album, as it's followed by the hymn-like "Who Comes This Night"; a somber, orchestrated treatment of the ages-old evergreen, "In the Bleak Midwinter"; and a deliberate, poignant pop reading of "Auld Lang Syne," freshened up by JT's gentle reading. With Grusin on piano, John Pizzarelli on guitar, Carpenter on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums on most cuts, the band crafts a sympathetic backdrop as Taylor wends his way through the textures and timeless themes of his well-considered Christmas journey. —David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
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Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024