James Taylor Quartet - Don’t Mess With Mr. T (2007)

James Taylor Quartet
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Don't Mess With Mr. T has little to do with the "Rocky" antagonist, except that it packs on hit after hit from the beginning to the end. James Taylor's indomitable quartet plays Motown with all the surety of its singular innovators.

The heart of the matter is simple: James Taylor works the Hammond organ as if he were weaned on its keyboard. On "Money," "Function at the Junction," and "Got to Give It Up," Taylor's showmanship reveals a reveler's release. On "Machine Gun" he brings a good dose of the same youthful exuberance as the Milan Williams original. When the organist within is unleashed, he explodes, unabashedly rocking. Just as wisely, Taylor knows when to let his cohorts run free.

Don't Mess With Mr. T has little to do with the "Rocky" antagonist, except that it packs on hit after hit from the beginning to the end. James Taylor's indomitable quartet plays Motown with all the surety of its singular innovators.

The heart of the matter is simple: James Taylor works the Hammond organ as if he were weaned on its keyboard. On "Money," "Function at the Junction," and "Got to Give It Up," Taylor's showmanship reveals a reveler's release. On "Machine Gun" he brings a good dose of the same youthful exuberance as the Milan Williams original. When the organist within is unleashed, he explodes, unabashedly rocking. Just as wisely, Taylor knows when to let his cohorts run free.

Guitarist Noel Price, bassist Andrew McKinney and drummer Adam Betts do full justice to these classics without imitating. Sax player Jamie Anderson, Nick Smart on trumpet, trombonist Dave Williamson, and percussionist Dreste-Noda Fernandez provide the necessary ingredients for a full-bodied authentic Motown sound, with Anderson being particularly memorable on the Junior Walker hit, "Cleo's Mood." As much as they bring however, that is not all it takes.

On "Signed Sealed and Delivered," "Jimmy Mack," and "After the Dance" vocalists make the subtle nuances dazzle. Donna Gardier, Joy Rose and Tyrone Henry give Stevie Wonder's hit new shine. The ladies put enough staccato spice on "Jimmy Mack" to give Martha and the Vandellas cause to pause. And guest vocalist Omar pays tribute to Marvin with an individuality that the Sexual Healer would have truly appreciated. After you raise an eyebrow wondering whose lilt flutters through you on "You Beat Me to the Punch," you'll be pleasantly surprised to find its Hil St. Soul. When Hil splashes the Smokey Robinson lyrics with nostalgic sassiness, the Mary Wells classic glows anew. No wonder, Ms. St. Soul is a top-of-the-line artist who should be top-of-mind more often. 

That is not to say the remaining tracks are less than stellar. None of this glory is misplaced on the disc's other solid selections, the Ashford and Simpson classic, "You're All I Need to Get By," and the timeless Supremes hit, "Come See About Me," here featuring Donna Gardier. The end track-title, "Don't Mess with Mr. T" renovates the 1972 selection from the "Trouble Man" soundtrack nicely. It's nearly as moody as the original, but only so much can be expected when one follows this originator and master of easy sensuality, Mr. Marvin Gaye. Tyrone Henry eases major fears well, and tops the track off appropriately with admirable, love-eliciting vocals. The way the "James Taylor Quartet Plays Motown" is a knockout in every sense of the word. You will gratefully surrender to body blows of innovation, inspiration, and stimulation, enjoying each emotional jolt. 

By Arnold W. Stovell

 
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