Livingston Taylor – Grandma's Hands (1993)

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by Pico

The other day I was digging Bill Withers’ gentle folk-soul masterwork from 1971, Just As I Am. A week later I still find myself occasionally warbling “Ain’t No Sunshine” when there’s no one else around save for my daughter and nearly sat down to write about it in this space. But then I started thinking about the song that follows it on that blessed album, “Grandma’s Hands.” And then I got to think of how well Liv Taylor covers this Withers original. Ah, screw it, everybody knows about “Sunshine,” anyway. I gotta testify for Liv.

For those who think I’m misspelling Steve Tyler’s daughter’s name, Livingston Taylor is the Jimmie Vaughan of folk rock; he’s plenty talented enough, but his career’s been overshadowed by a superstar brother. While Jimmie has had to deal with constant comparisons to Stevie Ray, Liv has quietly toiled away in nearly complete obscurity while his older brother James became an adult contemporary icon.

From all accounts, however, LT doesn’t seem to mind, as his effervescent charming persona endears him to audiences and he seems to regard his close relation to superstardom as fodder for light humor (even in song, such as the “Carolina On My Mind”-inspired “Carolina Day”).

In spite of not quite being James, Liv should have been a bigger star than what he’s become; the self-titled Liv from the same year as Withers’ aforementioned debut is a lost classic slice of early seventies singer-songwriter heaven. His voice is somewhat reedier than JT, but in certain parts of nearly every song he sings, Liv sounds like a dead-on impersonation of him. And like Big Bro’, Livingston is equally comfortable writing solid tunes, like “Get Out Of Bed”, as he is covering other people’s songs.

Livingston decided to cover “Grandma’s Hands” for his low key gem of 1993, Good Friends, and he made a nice choice. When Withers wrote about what he cherished about his grandmother, he could have speaking for nearly every one of us; even if the specific memories he sings about aren’t exactly as yours, you could still relate when he sings:

Grandma’s hands
Used to hand me piece of candy
Grandma’s hands
Picked me up each time I fell
Grandma’s hands
Boy, they really came in handy
She’d say, “Matty don’ you whip that boy
What you want to spank him for?
He didn’ drop no apple core”
But I don’t have Grandma anymore

If I get to Heaven I’ll look for
Grandma’s hands

Withers’ version was already simply arranged, employing just a bluesy electric guitar, bass and drums behind his voice. But Liv decided to go all a cappella with it, and going the gospel choir route was an inspired choice as the Grandma of this song was a religious woman who “clapped in church on Sunday morning” and “played a tambourine so well.” Livingston belts out the lead vocal with so much divine exhilaration you’d swear he grew up in a Southern Baptist church. At less than a minute and forty-five seconds, it sets a new record for being the shortest OTM song. Short, but oh so sweet.

Whenever a friend is grieving over the loss of their grandmother, I quote them the lyrics to “Grandma’s Hands.” And if I get to pass along the song itself, it’s gotta be Livingston Taylor’s uplifting version. You can’t go home no more, as they say, but music like this can bring you back there in your mind.

Listen: Livingston Taylor “Grandma’s Hands”

Purchase: Livingston Taylor “Good Friends”

“One Track Mind” is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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