James Taylor: New Hymn
Put away your image of James Taylor as a poetic lightweight, mere chronicler of the gentle muse: though his radio popfolk canon is tailor-made for easy listening, this track is a difficult one, with slant rhymes, an odd flowing meter, and a baffled imagery of the unknown, chock full of despair and darkness.
And yet, in many ways, New Hymn represents the under-appreciated apex of Taylor's prowess as a songwriter. Released only on his 1993 live album, this new hymn lives up to its titular promise, honoring the challenge of modern spirituality head on in a song that lingers long after its final notes fade. If it doesn't give you chills, you're not listening right.
So sit with it for a while: it's worth the visit. Soak in the tensions of the warm harmonies against the known darkness and the unknown fears evoked in its dense lyrical incantation. Note how the arrangement supports its fragmented vision, how the performance so effectively parallels its flares and flashes. Let its tiny coda sink in, and play it again, reveling in the short uplifting moment, the four word rise into hope at the song's end a deliberate echo of the Zen perfection psychedelic visionary Baba Ram Das described. Listen, and then accept its challenge: may we work to be here now, and in every moment, for this year, and for the years to come.
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