Masterworks

James Taylor: Sliding in Mud

Title: Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon

Label: Rhino

The thing about James Taylor, the perception of the man, is that he was the original singer-songwriter.

Maybe that tag needs some modification. A singer-songwriter in the modern sense.

One that adds a measure of sensitivity to his presentation and performance. One that infused his work with emotion and a sense of delicacy.

Of course, Taylor himself is having none of that, “If I look at people that I think were the sort of pioneers of that style I think of people like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. But I did my version of it. People like Eric Andersen or Tim Hardin… there were a lot of people that influenced me. I’m sort of surprised that people would credit me with inventing that. Joni Mitchell was already doing it when I came out of the box, so was Randy Newman. So I can’t really take credit for it.”

Which is true. Yet the tag often arises and you can see why. Taylor’s star really began to rise in the early 70s when he moved to the Warner Bros label.

While Sweet Baby James was a seminal LP release, I would argue that the album that helped to properly define him and arguably an entire musical genre, was Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.

Partly because the music industry and the public were ready for him and responded to the release.

James Taylor: Sliding in Mud

This album is where many observers saw James Taylor almost as a sort of rallying point to gather around after the trauma of the 60s political upheavals, the assassinations, Vietnam and so on. His work seemed to be a balm, “There are a number of different angles that a song comes from,” he admitted to the Internet website Stereogum, “and sometimes they’re soothing or comforting, sometimes they’re celebratory with a party or festival sensibility. But I definitely do have this thing in my writing that looks to comfort, looks to soothe or to heal.”

Now this important album from the man’s early portion of Taylor’s career can be heard for yourself because Rhino has released all six albums. Mastered by Bernie Grundman (so you’re in good hands here), the sound offers a low noise, detailed, zero compressed, slightly warm and cuddly presentation. 

This collection brings several albums back into print on vinyl for the first time in many years. Each album in the set has been remastered, a process overseen by Peter Asher, who signed Taylor to the Beatles’ Apple Records label in 1968, worked as his manager for 25 years and originally produced several of these albums. Presented in a sleeve out case, the set features Sweet Baby James (1970), Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon (1971), One Man Dog (1972), Walking Man (1974), Gorilla (1975), and In the Pocket (1976).

This collection includes well implemented cover versions but also plenty of guest appearances and guest appearances. Rock ’n’ Roll Music Is Now from Walking Man, for example, features backing vocals by Paul and Linda McCartney and Don’t Be Sad ’Cause Your Sun Is Down from In the Pocket is a song Taylor wrote and recorded with Stevie Wonder.

James Taylor: Sliding in Mud

James Taylor also has a bit of a reputation for his female collaborations. On Mud Slide Slim… he worked with Carol King on his interpretation of her song, You’ve Got a Friend but asked Joni Mitchell to sing backing vocals, “…it’s true, I suppose,” he said. “Joni (Mitchell) and Carly (Simon) and Carole (King) — I would say that Carole had the most effect on me. All three of those remarkable talents had a profound impact. I had a deep musical conversation with all of them. We shared a musical language. It’s a lovely thing to do. To share music like that is an extremely deep connection. It has meant a lot. But I think that Carole and I, we played in each other’s bands and on each other’s albums. 

That’s true of Joni and Carly too but Carole was there in my band with me. We were never a romantic couple, we were never intimately involved but musically we were really close. That’s something that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It was pretty wonderful working with Carole.”

Taylor’s six albums for Warner Bros. were distinctive and illustrative of a time and a place. That he could play a part in the gradual healing of the people in his audience was a special thing. I know his fans were and continue to be forever grateful.

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Fielding
    27th October 2019 at 11:23 am

    Will this release be available on CD as well?

  • Reply
    CJ
    6th January 2020 at 1:18 am

    I just bought the vinyl version and i have to say i am really disappointed in the mastering . It distorts/clips every time there’s a lot of instrumentation and on some songs throughout it entirely. At first i thought it was my turntable but i recalibrated the weight and played a bunch of other albums on it. This reissue is just really crappy. Plain and simple. I’m not sure if Rhino just produced way too many for the holiday season and wanted a quick cash grab but i am surprised since the production team you mentioned supposedly oversaw it. I agree the mp3s sound great but I’m really disappointed in the vinyl prints (btw – i also ordered another set just to see if i got a bad one and it was the same if not worse on the new one).

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      6th January 2020 at 1:04 pm

      Could be a dodgy batch CJ – that can happen. This is the same issue as the box set you have there and not Rhino’s ’09 release?

  • Reply
    CJ
    6th January 2020 at 1:26 pm

    I think that’s the issue as well. Did Rhino release all the albums in ‘09? Should I try collecting those instead? Can you provide any links? Thanks!

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      6th January 2020 at 2:53 pm

      Hi CJ – pretty sure Rhino released a variant in 09 but the latest masters *should* be better. There may have been issues in the pressing plant so it’s tough to advise you on this, short of hunting around different retailers for a good pressing. If a batch of LPs have been ruined then that batch might number in the hundreds and they may be scattered here and there. The next batch off the line may be perfect. It can happen. Frustrating, I know, but it’s part of the joy (ahem) of vinyl I suppose. 🙂

  • Reply
    CJ
    6th January 2020 at 3:09 pm

    Got it. Thanks for talking me through this. I may just try and email Rhino directly and tell them the situation. I’m 95% convinced it’s a bad-batch issue.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      6th January 2020 at 3:37 pm

      Good idea – please let me know what they say.

  • Reply
    CJ
    15th January 2020 at 9:59 pm

    Well, this was pretty disappointing:

    Me (to Rhino customer support): Hi there, I bought James Taylor, ‘The Warner Bros. Albums: 1970-1976’ on VINYL via Amazon shortly after Christmas.. When I played the records they were distorted. I checked to see if it was my turntable by playing other records and it definitely seems to be the batch. In fact, I returned the set and re-bought another set via Amazon within a few days of purchasing the first. I ran into the same issue. it appears to be a bad batch of pressings. I love James Taylor and was so excited about this release. I have searched forums and people who purchased the collection over the summer say the sound quality is amazing. Is there anything you can do for me? Could you send me a set that was pressed earlier in the summer? Open to any ideas. I just really want to enjoy this release I’ve been waiting for for so long. Thank you!

    Rhino: Hello CJ, Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, since you didn’t purchase from our store, we’re unable to manage an exchange/refund for the item. You’ll need to contact your point of purchase for refunds or exchanges. If you have any questions, please let us kn ow. Best,

    Me: Did you read my message though? I know I didn’t get it at Rhino. I’m not looking for a simple refund/exchange. Im looking for you to stand behind your product and send me a quality pressing.

    Rhino: Hello CJ, Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, since you didn’t purchase from our store, we’re unable to manage an exchange/refund for the item. You’ll need to contact your point of purchase for refunds or exchanges. If you have any questions, please let us know.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      16th January 2020 at 11:18 am

      Hmmm – sorry to hear about you ‘support’ problems CJ. Although your experience was not exactly positive, I applaud your efforts and I’m sure it will help others out there, reading this. It’s a shame that no-one at Rhino was able to have, at the very least, a conversation about the issues though.

  • Reply
    Carwyn Davies
    25th January 2020 at 7:55 pm

    I’ve got Sweet baby James and mud slide slim on vinyl. Bought them 20 odd years ago for £2 each when no one wanted vinyl. Lovely albums.

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