“When a singer-songwriter shows up, the first record, the first batch that they play you, that’s ten years’ worth of work. The second record is when you find out how good they are.” - David Crosby
In the case of Crosby’s peer and friend James Taylor, truer words have never been spoken, as his sophomore record Sweet Baby James cemented his deserved reputation as one of the finest songsmiths of his generation.
The album was the follow-up to his self-titled debut LP released courtesy of the Beatles’ Apple Records in 1968. Though James Taylor contained the classic hit singles “Carolina in My Mind” (featuring both George Harrison and Paul McCartney) and “Something in the Way She Moves,” the album garnered only modest critical and commercial acclaim, largely due to Taylor’s struggle with drug addiction at the time, which prevented him from properly promoting the album.
The following year, Taylor fled Apple Records, signed a new contract with LA-based Warner Bros. Records, and immersed himself in the fabled Laurel Canyon music scene. Produced by former Apple A&R head and Taylor’s manager Peter Asher, Sweet Baby James was recorded during a whirlwind 10-day period in December 1969 for a now-unheard of budget just shy of $8,000. Considered by many critics and fans alike to be Taylor’s magnum opus, the album comprises many of his most beloved compositions, most notably “Fire and Rain,” “Country Road” and the timeless title track.
In addition to featuring rare live footage of Taylor from the late 1960s, this 13-minute documentary finds Taylor reflecting on the highs and lows of his early career, which ultimately blossomed into a prolific run that’s still going strong. Taylor’s recollections are punctuated by commentary from Asher, Crosby, Carole King (who played piano on the Sweet Baby James), revered LA Times music critic Robert Hilburn, famed rock photographer Henry Diltz (who captured the album’s front cover image), and Hotel California author Barney Hoskyns.
Watch the documentary below and join us in revisiting this unequivocal revelation of an album.