In The Pocket by James Taylor (and Russ Kunkel) Part I
Updated: Feb 12
What a pleasant surprise. At least the first half of the album. I can’t believe I never heard In The Pocket after all these years and all those JT albums. I know “Shower the People,” and I’ve listened to these songs before, but never all the way through.
Man, what was I missing? It was a pleasure to hear a new James Taylor album for the first time, as though it was fresh off the rack in 1976.
In recent years I’ve listened to most JT albums, but somehow this one got by me. I know why, too. I confused it with the Gorilla album because he strikes a similar pose on the cover. It’s as if he continued the photo shoot, changed his jacket, and spun around in the other direction.
This was released only a year after Gorilla and was the last of his original albums with Warner Brothers. In addition, later in 76’ his Greatest Hits album was released, which left In the Pocket sandwiched between two wildly successful albums. At that point, Greatest Hits was the only JT album in the eyes and ears of many, including me.
I never knew any of these albums when I was a kid. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that I started listening to JT albums for real. I began playing guitar around the same time, and it was natural to pick up his songbooks and try to hammer out the chords.
Much better way to get to know an album, by the way. Play the drums along with it too, and realize how good Russ Kunkel and all the other drummers he used were. After seeing that name so many times, I thought it was a Los Angeles studio union rule that Russ Kunkel had to play the drums on your album.
“Shower the People” is such a nice, simple song, even though I overplayed it from the Greatest Hits album. Brilliant arrangement and recording make it a dazzling presentation. Contemplative intro, followed by a chorus with Carly Simon on backing vocals that the record company must have loved.
It’s got a slow build to another, richer chorus, with that great “what I’d like to do to you” bringing up the end of each verse. It’s more the production that makes it, with an onslaught of very proficient licks from very expensive session players.
“A Junkie’s Lament” is a subtle tease but in a good way. Art Garfunkel sings backup, although it’s credited as a duet. Honestly, I thought it was Carly the first time I heard it. The vocals play at the end with the “la, la, la’s,” including Carly, Moog, and ringing Fender Rhodes and chimes.
“Money Machine” goes in a new direction with what the album credits refer to as the “voiceorgan” and later the “hornorgan,” both played by Nick DeCaro. Valerie Carter, James (and I believe Carly) on backing vocals. From there, it’s a kick-up in rhythm into rock with a horn section.
The James Taylor rock style is all its own. He’s obviously more polished in timber and stylings than a hard rocker, but I bet he actually did “cut his teeth on Bo Diddley,” as he claims in a song from the Walking Man album.
"Money Machine" moves into jazz-rock by the end with some nice “na na nas” from James and that ever-present keyboard vocalizenator. The ending sounds so much more authentic than the rest of the song.
Speaking of which, on “Daddy’s Baby” from Walking Man, Don Grolnick plays the Vox Humana, which is a real instrument, much like a celeste. This sounds similar, but what exactly is DeCaro playing here? Not sure, but I think somebody was having a little fun with the credits.
“Slow Burning Love” is a step back to introspective country boy. Acoustic guitar, strings, Fender Rhodes, Carly, and other triple-scale session players, including Mr. Kunkel. This is joyously depressing. I feel like I’m playing in a folk trio. It’s acoustic guitar and vocals with an old feel. Makes me feel like lighting a candle and meditating.
"Everybody Has the Blues" is, you guessed it, an upbeat blues song with hand claps that was probably written in a matter of minutes. If there’s a down-and-out low-budget song on the album, it’s this one. It only features six musicians, and they had to make due with Danny Kortchmar, Craig Dorge, Michael Brecker, and others, all with global music instrument endorsement deals.
And wouldn’t you know, Russ Kunkel couldn’t make this session! They had to settle for Jim Keltner on drums.
"Daddy’s All Gone" tugs at the heartstrings (no one was hired to play those). Dominated by the Fender Rhodes (Clarence McDonald), this one is light and airy with a meandering rhythm and James noodling on electric guitar. Carly comes in later.
Good first half of the album, and it hooked me to keep listening. With James, these musicians, and that production, there is a lot of talent to be heard. How can they go wrong?
End of Part I
Part II to post February 17