VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Fire and Rain Mixtape”

James Taylor wrote “Fire and Rain” and released it in 1970 on his second album, Sweet Baby James. The cryptic but vivid lyrics led to all kinds of speculations and interpretations. The song is autobiographical but not as literal as many try to make it seem.

Taylor wrote the song after returning to the United States from London, where he was working on his debut album. A friend (not his girlfriend/fiancé) had committed suicide but friends concealed her death from Taylor fearing if they told him, the news would disturb his work on the debut album, which Taylor was recording under contract with Apple Records, the Beatles’ record label.
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Taylor has said:

The first verse is about my reactions to the death of a friend. The second verse is about my arrival in this country with a monkey on my back, and there Jesus is an expression of my desperation in trying to get through the time when my body was aching and the time was at hand when I had to do it… And the third verse of that song refers to my recuperation in Austin Riggs which lasted about five months.
Many fans didn’t know that Taylor was part of a failed band, The Flying Machine, which broke up upon arrival at the airport in New York after a totally disastrous roadtrip. Tayor was addicted to heroin and had committed himself in an effort to kick the habit. He also suffered from depression. The strength of the song is one does not have to know the meaning behind each verse to be emotionally moved.

When I began putting the Mixtape together I knew there were a bunch of versions (over 200) but I didn’t know that the song had received widely diverse treatments including a strong batch of jazz instrumentals. I’m certain that at least one of these versions will deeply touch each listener. I’ve made a special effort to include innovative performances from artists who are not well known. Popularity is no proof of artistry, nor does the lack of popularity prevent one from being a consummate artist.

The most surprising cover is the Richie Havens, which concludes the Mixtape. I’ve been familiar with Havens’ music since the late sixties. I tend to put him in a folk bag and forget that he has serious musical chops. Notice the harmonic developments Havens adds to Taylor’s plaintive song.

“Fire and Rain” is a meaningful song that directly confronts death and our struggles to continue living in the face of emotional trauma. We all, at one time or another, suffer personal losses, get burned by unexpected fires, get caught out in storming interpersonal rain, lose friends we thought we would soon see. None of us can avoid the ups and downs that mark every life.

“Fire and Rain” confirms for us that we can carry on. This is a song of optimism in the face of death, and as such, this is a song that at one time or another we all will have cause to sing.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

Fire and Rain Mixtape Playlist

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01 Introducing Celia La

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02 Suite Unseen: Summoner of the Ghost - Babatunde Lea

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03 Jazzinit - Dee Daniels

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04 Communication - Bobby Womack

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05 The Best Of The Gaylads

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06 Live At The John Anson Ford Amphitheater - Lionel Hampton featuring Ernie Andrews

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07 I Will Wait For You - Rigmor Gustafsson

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08 California Concert: The Hollywood Palladium - CTI All-Stars (featuring Hubert Laws and George Benson)

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09 A Time For Love - Phillip Manuel

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10 Givin' It Back - Isley Brothers

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11 Black Coffee - Pippi Ardennia

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12 Glow - Al Jarreau

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13 Explorations - David Leonhardt Trio

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14 Ranee Lee Lives Upstairs - Ranee Lee

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15 Live At The Cellar Door - Richie Havens  

This entry was posted on Monday, September 6th, 2010 at 9:57 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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