Music Reviews
American Standard

James Taylor American Standard

(Fantasy Records) Buy it from Insound Rating - 3/10

Have you ever heard an album where even the artist sounds unsure of why they recorded it? Only a handful of months into 2020, James Taylor runs away with the year’s most pointless endeavor, one only slightly less disrespectful to the audience than any posthumous project forced upon audiences by lazy and/or greedy record label executives. American Standard is James Taylor’s most pathetic collection of songs ever—a slicked back, vomit-inducing concoction of embarrassing covers of pop standards, sung by a man who has always sounded like he’s been on horse tranquilizers. Whenever I’m not listening to it, I’m convinced it isn’t worth being angry about, but then I hear the plastic bongos on Teach Me Tonight, and I debate punching a wall. It’s the only album my dad has bought so far this year, if that sounds like your kind of thing.

As the inoffensive My Blue Heaven kicks it off, you either immediately know that you’ll enjoy American Standard or not. By the time we get to the waltzing drums and too-clean acoustic guitar licks, you’ll hopefully know that you won’t. If you take a step back to assess the damage, you’ll come to realize that the problem here isn’t entirely Taylor's. While he’s a big issue and really makes the whole debacle hard to sit through, not even our best singer songwriters can make an album of covers worth hearing. Bob Dylan, the greatest folk singer of all, has done more than one of these albums—and he can’t even make someone want to hear it. But that is his god given right as he is Robert Allen Zimmerman. James Vernon Taylor doesn’t even have a cool birth name, much less the God-given right to make a pop standards cover album.

While Taylor puts in a bit of effort here and there, he never seems to achieve much at all with a project where the cards were stacked against him from the conception. With the touches of lap steel on God Bless the Child or the surprising cuteness of It’s Only a Paper Moon, there’s proof that Taylor’s got some sensibility in terms of the arrangements and production of these songs. But if he’s got any common sense, he would have dropped the smothering backing vocals of Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat or dropped the track As Easy as Rolling Off a Log off of thealbum. Every solid moment on American Standard is outmatched by a one to ten ratio of awry choices for songs that shouldn’t be hard to ruin. It’s almost impressive to see James Taylor screw up songs that are fundamentally easy to cover.