Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Livingston Taylor – Last Alaska Moon – Chesky/Coconut Bay

Singer/songwriter Livingston Taylor returns from a short hiatus with a subtly-varied and finely-crafted song collection.

Published on June 7, 2010

Livingston Taylor – Last Alaska Moon – Chesky/Coconut Bay

Livingston Taylor – Last Alaska Moon – Chesky/Coconut Bay JD350, 43:47 ****:

(Livingston Taylor – vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, celeste; Andrea Zonn, Jeff White, Kenneth “Scat” Springs, Drea Rhenee, Liz Longley – backing vocals; Steve Gadd, Chad Cromwell – drums; Leland Sklar, Michael Rhodes & Glenn Worf – bass; Shane Keister – piano, Hammond B-3, Fender Rhodes; Aubrey Hanie – mandolin, fiddle; Chris Rodrigez, Vince Gill & Larry Carlton – electric guitar; Paul Franklin – lap steel, dobro; Gary Corbett – Hammond B-3; Ken Lewis, Eric Darken – percussion; Mark Painter – Flugelhorn, horns & strings arrangements; Dan Tyminski – acoustic guitar, mandolin; Ron Block – banjo; Barry Bales – upright bass; J.T. Corenfios – guitar; Ben Taylor – vocals; Sheldon Mirowitz – strings arranger; Doug Dugmore – dobro; John G. McLane – steel drums; John Catchings – cello; Sam Levine – penny whistle)

Some people only know Livingston Taylor as singer/songwriter James Taylor’s older brother and as part of the Taylor sibling musical family. Those who appreciate his work, though, realize Livingston Taylor (Liv to longtime fans) is a skillful singer/songwriter in his own right. He pens contemplative, lyrically specific songs; creates likeable tunes that often contain autobiography as well as larger issues; and is a seasoned road veteran – he recently entered his fourth decade as a musician – acknowledged for engaging concerts.

On his latest long player, Last Alaska Moon, Taylor focuses on the three Fs: family, friendship and faith. Over the course of 43 minutes and a dozen songs he drifts from folk-pop to jazzy adult pop and from bluegrass to country. The proceedings – taped in Tennessee – are appropriately varied and feature a who’s who of professionals who provide suitable backing, including guitarist Vince Gill, bassist Leland Sklar, drummer Steve Gadd, members of Alison Krauss’ band Union Station, Larry Carlton and more.

Taylor begins capably with the pop-parceled title track, an amiable ode to amity, memories and kinship that showcases Taylor’s warm tenor voice – which is quite similar his brother James – and Taylor’s expressive words and distinctive details. The cut’s keenly etched character sketching – one of Taylor’s trademarks – is echoed even better on bluegrass-bunted “Henry,” a first-person account of an Appalachian dowser and single father to a mute daughter. Taylor’s mountain man music is flavored by Dan Tyminski’s guitar and Ron Block’s banjo. Tyminski and Block are also highlighted during the humorous, first-person fugitive narrative “I’m In a Pickle,” a country-pop piece underscored by steel pan drums that contribute a trace of Caribbean condensation.

Taylor’s Christian beliefs also filter through the material and furnish both a spiritual universality and a unifying continuity. Lush pop nugget “Kittyhawk,” for example, marries aviation history with an uplifting confidence in a higher being’s greater plan. The holiday standard-in-the-making “Christmas Is Almost Here” mingles the change from youth to old age with generalized thoughts on convictions. The most overt ideology-inclined statement is the delicate romance ballad “Answer My Prayer,” co-written with Carole Bayer Sager. Anyone putting together an anniversary mix tape should add this to the list.

Of all the subtle surprises, the most unexpected is a timely reconstruction of Michael Jackson’s “The Girl Is Mine,” a duet with Taylor’s nephew Ben Taylor. Purists may disagree on the merits of the interpretation, but Taylor adeptly reshapes Jackson’s hit into a comfortable adult contemporary arrangement that maintains a lingering affability.

Taylor ends by looking backward to concentrate on family and familiarity with “Call Me Carolina,” which alludes to “Carolina Day,” from Taylor’s self-titled 1970 debut record. Like that older number, “Call Me Carolina” exhibits Taylor’s deep-rooted and articulate musical style, which mines the past, the present and future possibilities. If you have never experienced Livingston Taylor’s intimately-toned and classic American folk-pop, Last Alaska Moon is a fine place to start. Those already acquainted with Taylor’s previous outings will probably give a high rating to this carefully crafted album.

1. Last Alaska Moon
2. Everybody’s Just Like Me
3. Henry
4. I’m Letting the Whiskey Do My Talking
5. The Girl Is Mine
6. Kitty Hawk
7. Never Lose Hope
8. Christmas Is Almost Here
9. Answer My Prayer
10. I’m In a Pickle
11. Walk Until It’s Heaven
12. Call Me Carolina

— Doug Simpson

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