It was out with the new, in with the old when veteran singer-songwriter James Taylor blew past hot young talents (like that other Taylor, country pop sensation Taylor Swift) and landed at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 for the week ending June 21, the first No. 1 album of his career.
Not many people would have predicted that nearly a half-century after releasing his first record, 67-year old Sweet Baby James would be trending in 2015 with what he calls “warm and comfy” songs on his newest album, Before This World — least of all James himself. “He really thought his music was out of style for this generation,” an insider tells Closer. “He’s completely in shock that he’s still relevant after all these years.”
James performing in Chicago in 2001.
James, who rose to fame with heartfelt songs like “Fire and Rain,” and “You’ve Got a Friend,” continues to be beloved by music fans in part because he doesn’t try to change with the times, cross over to a new genre or bedazzle folks with flash.
“He blazed the trail as a sensitive singer-songwriter,” says Rolling Stone contributing editor David Wild, who spent time with James in the studio while he was recording Before This World. “But whether he was in style or out of style, he’s just done what he does so well and it is a testament to how some things have enduring value.”
James in a recording studio with singer Joni Mitchell in 1971.
It’s also a testament to hard work. “He’s a perfectionist,” the insider explains. “He’s known to be in the studio for hours on end.” That’s one reason Before This World, featuring collaborations with Sting and Yo-Yo Ma, took 13 years to arrive. “I think this record at one point was going to come out a year earlier,” Wild says, “but he just kept working it because he wanted to get it right.”
He also wanted to spend time enjoying a happy family life. He’s overcome the years of drug addiction and emotional issues that plagued him. James kicked his longtime heroin habit in 1983 after the deaths of friends John Belushi and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. And his two divorces, from actress Kathryn Walker and the very public split from fellow singer-songwriter Carly Simon, are also behind him now.
To read the full story on James, pick up the new issue of 'Closer Weekly' on newsstands now!