When I was growing up during the ’80s, James Taylor was one of those artists who’s music was still associated with the lighter end hippie movement. Sure Taylor’s image got a boost as a bad ass in the film Two Lane Blacktop, but for much of the following decade he was making serious in roads to becoming a adult contemporary star. After Dad Loves His Work, he quickly became one of my favorite singer songwriters from the generation that formed my earliest musical impressions via AM radio. To me, Taylor’s music had become the equivalent to comfort food.
With his personal life in the news more than his music, Taylor was in something of a downward spiral until headlining a festival in Rio changed him. Blame it on the warm weather or topless ladies at the beach – whatever it was, the warm reception reinvigorated him to the point of writing a series of songs that ended up on his first album in nearly five years.
On the surface, That’s Why I’m Here was not much different from Dad Loves His Work. From a production standpoint it featured a more electronic and slick production. Aside from the infusion of soul, lyrically it was night and day. The difference was the hope and enthusiasm that came with kicking a drug habit and refocusing on family and his music.
Bright happy songs like “Turn Away”, “Everyday” and the title song became top adult contemporary hits that today are still popular in public spaces where music is played in the background. Taylor had more than a little help from his friends including Joni Mitchell and Don Henley. Despite the heavy weight guest appearances, the album’s strongest vocals came from an excellent troupe of backup singers which included Deniece Williams.
“Only One” benefits from the skillful blending of soulful backup vocals with Taylor’s own laid back style which was flexible enough to sound natural in this environment. I’m not really sure what happened to Taylor’s music after this period. I either lost interest in it or loss access to VH-1. I was never really sure which.
Life was rougher then, so comfort food in the form of old familiar sounds was something I was really into (and still am). Never mind that Taylor had three good albums during the ’80s, this one is clearly his most uplifting. No AM radio era playlists feels complete without at least a track from That’s Why I’m Here.