James Taylor has been a respected powerhouse on the blues, folk and rock scene for more than four decades, but this is his first time to land an album in the No. 1 slot on Billboard. His new release Before This World sold 97,000 copies last week, and knocked Taylor Swift’s pop album 1989 down to No. 2.
James Taylor first emerged as an influential songwriter and performer in 1970 when his debut album made the Billboard Top 200, 45 years ago. That 45-year span makes Taylor one of the slowest burns in the history of Billboard. Only Tony Bennett took longer to creep from the bottom to the top of the chart. Bennett was present on Billboard from 1957 to 2011. James Taylor has held Top 10 slots with 11 previous albums, but this is his first time to beat Taylor Swift. He told the press that he feels elated.
Rolling Stone has famously described James Taylor as the “archetypal sensitive singer/songwriter of the Seventies.” What is great is that his new work stays true to this archetype. On Before This World, taylor even sings a tribute to his hometown, Boston, Massachusetts, and to Fenway Park.
“The simplicity of the music matches Taylor’s nostalgic mood,” wrote one positive reviewer. Many fans have asked why it took Taylor so long to release this album, and the answer seems to be simply that sometimes writing good original work takes a long time.
As it turns out, Taylor had all the music for the album composed in 2010, but it was they lyric-writing that slowed him down. He struggled with a creative block for several years, and he spent a lot of time in seclusion in order to get the words out. He borrowed a friend’s country home in Rhode Island in order to focus on writing. Occasionally, if he found himself without a recording device for a melody, he would call his own home answering machine and sing himself a message.
“It took a lot of doing. I’m very distractible I guess” he said in a recent interview. Taylor is 67 years old and appears to still be going strong. He is looking forward to playing a sold-out Fourth of July concert in his native Massachusetts.