For those of us whose vinyl copies of James Taylor’s triple-platinum 1970 album Sweet Baby James have worn out over time, Audio Fidelity has released a limited-numbered edition of the masterpiece in their 24K+ Gold Compact Disc Series, which uses a unique process to create the kind of warm sound many feel has been lost on today’s standard disc. As they describe it, they use the original mixes to create what they consider the best versions of each song to produce a disc with a 24-karat, defect-free gold surface. The disc offers excellent sound in general, and this will thrill both Taylor aficionados and audiophiles as well.
Of course some may never even open the shrink-wrap, hoping that such a keepsake, if maintained in pristine condition, will command a good price on the collectibles market in the future. After all, these discs are numbered.
On the other hand, those who stow it away will be missing a fine listening experience. The album, ranked by Rolling Stone at 103 in its list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” shows Taylor at his emotional best. Not only is it filled with songs that were to put the mellow singer on the charts, the album was written with an honest, personal intensity that transcended mere artifice. “Fire and Rain,” its breakout single, is a clear illustration. In interviews Taylor has said that the song is about his experiences in mental institutions dealing with depression. While his statements about the causes of that depression have varied, the song’s essential, emotional truthfulness remains inescapable.
Add to this songs that include “Steamroller,” “Lo and Behold,” “Blossom,” “Country Road” and “Oh, Susannah,” and you’ve got an album that deserves every one of its many accolades. The brilliant faux-folk lullaby that serves as the album’s title is my personal favorite, and it describes the essence of Taylor’s music as well as anything else could: a “song which is soft but it’s clear, as if maybe someone could hear.” Maybe if it helps you to sleep you can believe it. It is the music of maybe, the music of uncertainty. While marked with a sense of melancholy that underscores so much of this artist’s work, “Sweet Baby James” is one of those songs that echoes in your ear and never grows old.
This is a welcome addition to the Audio Fidelity Gold catalog where, by the way, it joins new releases of two of Taylor’s other classic albums, One Man Dog and Walking Man, as well as ex-wife Carly Simon’s No Secrets. In the end, though, Taylor doesn’t need me to say nice things about Sweet Baby James. It has already earned more than enough praise over the past four decades to ensure that listeners will continue appreciating it for many years to come.