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Taylor's music remains timeless

March 16, 2011
Every theater seat was full and there was a certain energy and excitement in the place as stagehands made last-minute adjustments to microphones and placed two acoustic guitars on stands. As the lights dimmed, an instant silence signaled that it was showtime and a music legend walked on stage. A gasp could be heard from the audience, followed by a roar as James Taylor waved, bowed and took a seat on a stool.

The applause continued until he reached over, picked up his guitar and set it on his knee. Then, another silence as fans anticipated his next move, and all that was needed was a couple of chords being strummed for the audience to recognize what was coming and another cheer went up.

"There's something in the way she moves — that looks my way and calls my name," Taylor began singing. And the crowd was clinging to every note, every word, as if trying to pull the song out of Taylor, knowing what the next word would be, but relishing hearing him sing it again as only he can.

"And I feel fine, anytime, she's around me now — she's around me now, almost all the time. And if I'm well you can tell, that she's been with me now. She's been with me now — such a long-long time."

The old James Taylor magic was at work again, and it always works. Most concerts are loud affairs — loud music, loud audience, screaming into microphones, crowd screaming back — but Taylor somehow makes an audience want to listen, to stay seated and focused on the music and the man who can take one acoustic guitar and his voice and keep thousands completely entertained for hours.

As the song ended and the applause quieted, Taylor talked about how an old friend of his runs a construction business and, with his son, "builds decks and room additions."

"I always thought that would be really cool," Taylor said. "So, I thought, hey, Ben (his son) and I could do something together. And we decided to give it a try. So, I'd like to introduce my son, Ben Taylor."

Ben, a tall, slender, yet muscular, young man walked across the stage and took a seat on a stool next to his dad as the audience erupted in applause and cheers. The two shook hands, and Ben picked up a guitar. They immediately went into "Close Your Eyes," with Ben working perfect harmonies on one of his dad's signature songs.

"Well, the sun is surely sinkin' down — and the moon is slowly risin'. So, this old world must still be spinnin' round — and I still love you."

As the two played along, it was hard to tell who was actually playing the original chords and guitar licks in the song and who was following along. Ben, 33, the son of Taylor and singer-songwriter Carly Simon, has either learned the finger-picking and strumming combination of his dad or has developed a style that is naturally similar and just as alluring and amazing as the elder Taylor. His voice seems a combination of both parents, a little softer than his father's, a little more throaty than his mother's, and it was obvious all evening that he was just as comfortable performing in front of thousands of people as his parents.

During the show, held at the Old National Center's Murat Theater in Indianapolis on March 4, the two Taylors switched back and forth, playing one of James' songs then one of Ben's, and the crowd couldn't have been more pleased. The old favorites like "Sweet Baby James," "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" and "Fire and Rain" excited the audience and garnered the Taylors standing ovations. And Ben's tunes, such as "Dirty," "You Could Be Mine" and "Boyfriend," were met with enthusiasm from the crowd. His song "Little Brother," about his 10-year-old twin step-brothers, showed his ability, not just to tell a story, but to offer intelligent advice and compassion to those whom he cares about. And the audience loved it.

James, who is now 62, looks his age, but bounces around the stage like a teenager and spent most of the 20-minute intermission signing autographs for those in the crowd lucky enough to be close to the stage. Ben, when coming out for the second set, stopped and signed a couple of autographs, as well, before starting the next song, "Next Time Around." As the last notes of the song drifted away, his dad returned to the stage, and the two were a synchronized team again, building a fire under "Whenever I See Your Smiling Face" and fanning the flames on "Mexico," which brought the crowd to their feet and had them singing along — "Baby's hungry and the money's all gone, the folks back home don't want to talk on the phone" — and Ben led the chorus, "Oh, Mexico, never really been, but I'd sure like to go."

The evening was enriched by background singers Katie Markowitz and Arnold McCuller, both great songwriters and singers who have toured with James for years.

The Taylors have a full concert calendar for the next several weeks and will perform at the Louisville Palace Theater on March 25, but almost every show on the tour has been sold out for months.

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