The Friday Morning Listen: James Taylor – Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon (1971)

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Shortly after a preview article was published on the upcoming remaster of James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon, we were knocking around some ideas while sitting around the Something Else! watercooler. While I was holding forth on Taylor’s (quite underrated) skills as a guitarist, one of our cohorts said that he never liked Taylor because of his monotone voice.

What?! Monotone…as in “expressionless”?

Interesting. I’ve been listening to Taylor for years and the idea that this voice is expressionless just does not make sense to my ear parts. Maybe it’s because I’m a New England guy. With Taylor being associated with the area, it always seemed like he was one of us. In the interviews I’ve seen, he’s always comes across as a warm and sincere individual — making the monotone label that much more foreign.

Of course, all of this comes down to pure subjectivity. We like what we like and there’s not much to be done about it. There are times when I just know that a voice is right for me, even if I’m not quite sure why. The reasons tend to come into sharper focus long after the initial reactions have settled down. On the other side, a voice that repels me does so for one reason only: lack of emotion. Yes, the exact trait that started this whole discussion.

So the question remains, why the perceived lack of emotion? I’m fairly certain that that can’t be answered as there are glaring contradictions in the list that follows. Is it that I don’t like baritones? Matt Berninger (The National), Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) — can’t stand them. They seem dead to me. Zombified. And yet, there is Greg Brown, Tom Waits, and Leonard Cohen. Love them all. Is it British accents? I have no use for either Peter Gabriel or Morrissey. But then there’s Billy Bragg. I can listen to him all day and night. The Kinks as well, now that I think of it.

What about your confessional songwriter types? Elliott Smith? Hell no. Nick Drake? Yeah, sure. Bonnie Prince Billy? I had a discussion with a guy at a record store, during which I said that Will Oldham sounded like a guy who just doesn’t care. Record story guy thought he sounded like he cared too much. Hmmm.

Yes, this is all very perplexing. Being a rock guy, I’m supposed to love Roxy Music and yet I cannot put up with Brian Ferry’s voice. David Bowie? No, thank you. And then there’s the biggest mystery of all: Bruce Springsteen. I love everything the man has done with the exception of the Tunnel of Love album, which I find to be monotone, expressionless, and lacking in interesting music. There are reasons I can point to for why I don’t like the music, but the voice? Just … don’t … like it.

These contradictions are what’s great about music, and art in general. It’s a big world out there, made even bigger by our reactions to it.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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  • Tom Johnson

    “one of our cohorts said that he never liked Taylor because of his monotone voice.”

    It wasn’t me. I just think he’s boring.

  • no it wasn’t you. and since you’re young and stupid, i’ll let that boring comment pass.

    😉

  • S. Victor Aaron

    Tom’s got a point, JT doesn’t rap like Rush does. 😀

  • Glen Boyd

    Taylor’s voice just sounds really flat and expressionless to me. Like Tom, I also find his stuff a little sleepy for my taste. I’ve also just never really been a big fan of the slick sounds of “studio musician” sheen — with the L.A. crowd on the one hand (Kortchmar, Kunkel. Waddy, etc.), and the uptown jazz guys (Tom Scott, the Breckers) on the other. The lone exception to this rule would be Joni Mitchell — her “jazz period” stuff is pretty damn amazing.

    -Glen

  • Mark Saleski

    can’t stand the studio musician sheen and yet you can stomach Tunnel of Love.

    oh, so many contradictions today! 😉

  • Glen Boyd

    Tunnel of Love is actually very raw sounding in places (like on Gibson’s favorite track, “Spare Parts”). The Bruce albums that suffered most from studio gloss in my opinion were Human Touch and Lucky Town. The E Street Band would’ve positively slayed something like “Roll of the Dice” or “Better Days.” Good songs on those records, but really stiff playing.

  • Glen Boyd

    …and live, it was even worse.

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