WHO IS HE? Sweet Baby James. The sensitive singer-songwriter who’s seen fire AND rain — and who knows you’ve got a friend. The soft-centered folkie who got signed to Apple Records, singlehandedly and wrongly inspiring generations of shy sad sacks to pick up acoustic guitars and sing about their goddamn feelings. The onetime, longtime heroin addict who admits he might have introduced John Lennon to opiates. The guy who was inexplicably married to way-out-of-his-league singer-songwriter Carly Simon. And — not to put too fine a point on it — quite possibly the least-rocking man ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
WHAT IS THIS? His 20th studio release, first new album in five years, and like its spoiler-alert title makes fairly clear, a collection of American Songbook classics penned by the Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths like Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Mancini and Mercer and more. Of course — and not to put too fine a point on it again — it’s also an album that virtually every other A-list singer-songwriter has already made.
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? The soundtrack to overpriced brunch at an upscale restaurant — or happy hour in a bougie wine bar. Take your pick. Either way, it’s 45 minutes of listening to Taylor fingerpick his nylon-string acoustic and soothingly croon jazz-tinged coffeehouse renditions of decades-old songs with the help of unintrusive session players and background singers.
WHAT ARE THE MOST REVEALING LYRICS? “Sit down, you’re rocking the boat.”
WHAT SHOULD IT BE TITLED? At best: American Cliche. At worst: American Horror Story.
HOW SHOULD I LISTEN TO IT? In your Rolls, while antiquing in the Hamptons before yachting with Chad and Muffy. Or with your grandparents. If you don’t really like them.
WHAT 10 WORDS SUM IT UP? Nostalgic, calm, wistful, sentimental, introspective, bittersweet, plaintive, lazy, predictable, unnecessary.
WHAT IS THE WORST SONG? His why-Lord-why renditions of Old Man River and Billie Holiday’s God Bless the Child.
WHAT WILL MY FRIENDS SAY? ‘I can’t believe he named his album after a type of toilet. Then again … ‘
HOW OFTEN WILL I LISTEN TO IT? You’ll want to hear it every night before bed — but only if you are plagued by crippling, relentless insomnia.
IF THIS ALBUM WERE A FLAVOUR, WHAT WOULD IT BE? Diet vanilla.
SHOULD I BUY, STREAM OR STEAL IT? Ignore it. Maybe it’ll go away.