Alex Taylor Brings His Friends & Neighbors

Originally posted March 12, 2008

In 1971, there was James Taylor. To oversimplify things immensely, Taylor had sparked the singer-songwriter boom the year before with his Sweet Baby James and its Top Ten hit, “Fire and Rain.” And in his wake came a multitude of singers and their songs, among them his siblings Livingston, Kate and Alex.

I recall reading a few years later, in one of the first books I ever read about pop and rock, a comment from a record company executive that summed up the impact of Taylor’s first album and its singer better than anything I’ve ever seen since. I no longer have the book (nor can I find a trace of it online; it was written/edited by Lillian Ronson, I believe), but the comment went something like this:

“Damn James Taylor! He had his hit, and now we’ve all got kids with guitars coming into our places singing about water and ice, and earth and sky, and sun and moon, and surf and sand, and now and then, and love and lust, and here and gone. Damn James Taylor!”*

While Taylor’s siblings weren’t quite as simplistic as that in their music, there’s no doubt that they were following the path blazed by their brother with Sweet Baby James and its 1971 follow-up, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon. During 1971, Livingston Taylor released Liv and Kate Taylor released Sister Kate, both of which are fine albums, perhaps not with the reach and polish of their brother’s work, but satisfying listening in their own right. And in both albums, of course, one can hear the influence of their brother.

Then there was Alex Taylor. Eventually, Alex would eventually go a more southern route, finding grittier music to be his place, an approach that would result in at least three fine bluesy albums: Dinnertime in 1972, Dancing With The Devil in 1981, and Voodoo In Me in 1989, his last album before his death in 1993. (I don’t mention Taylor’s third album, 1974’s Third For Music, because I’ve never heard it and have read very little about it.)

Blues and grit was Alex Taylor’s musical destination, but he started off sounding very much like his siblings on his debut album, 1971’s With Friends and Neighbors, released on Capricorn (and recorded, one assumes, at the label’s studios). He opens the proceedings with a cover of brother James’ “Highway Song” from Mud Slide Slim and then – at the midpoint of what was Side One – covers as well James’ “Night Owl,” a track from James’ early James Taylor and the Flying Machine.

“Highway Song” sounds like it could have been recorded anywhere, but the rest of Alex’s first album sounds more and more like the south as each track spins past. While not nearly as southern-tinged as Alex’s later work would be, once past the first track, With Friends and Neighbors clearly has a sense of place. Even if that sense of place is sometimes a little tentative, it’s very clear that he’s far removed from the locales that seem to inform his sibling’s records, records that to me always sound like New England, even during the more countryish offerings.

That sense becomes more prominent during the songs that made up Side Two of the album, especially the album’s length closer, a nine-minute-plus working of the loping “Southbound,” written by Gregg Allman and David Brown (a different tune from the Dickey Betts-penned “Southbound” on the Allman Brothers Band’s Brothers & Sisters). The second half of the album also includes a nicely done version of the Womack & Womack warhorse “It’s All Over Now.”

Of course, it helps to have good help in the studio, and With Friends and Neighbors boasts a pretty good collection of talent. Brother James stopped by to play guitar, as did Scott Boyer and Tommy Talton of the Capricorn crew. Johnny Sandlin produced and added his bass to the mix. And King Curtis brought his saxophone. So if With Friends and Neighbors was not quite as bluesy as Alex Taylor’s music eventually became, you can hear it as his starting point. And it’s a pretty good listen.

Highway Song
Southern Kids
All In Line
Night Owl
C Song
It’s All Over Now
Baby Ruth
Take Out Some Insurance

Alex Taylor – With Friends and Neighbors [1971]

(Thanks to skynfan and ricsi for the original rip.)

*I almost had the name right: readers David and Yah Shure noted soon after this post went up that it was Lillian Roxon who wrote the 1969 Rock Encyclopedia. Given the date of Roxon’s book, I could not have seen the comment about James Taylor there, so my memory has failed on that point. But even though I don’t know the source of the comment, I do know I read the comment somewhere during the early part of the 1970s. Note added June 18, 2011.


2 Responses to “Alex Taylor Brings His Friends & Neighbors”

  1. Delaney & Bonnie & Friends Rip It Up « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] with reader Yah Shure, also noted that a book about rock history, referred to in my post regarding Alex Taylor, was written by Lillian Roxon, not Ronson. I should note, then, that the quote I posted about James […]

  2. Otis, Neil & Gypsy « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] Friends and Neighbors by Alex Taylor [1971] Original post here. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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