Life is Good for Livingston Taylor

Backstage, before the show at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, Livingston Taylor is diligently re-stringing his acoustic guitar and talking about the rigors and risks involved in putting together and financing a record album. He is, of course, referring to his new album Life is Good (Critique/Atlantic Records), his first effort in seven years. "I assembled this album, put it together myself, and my wife and I financed it. It was absolute insanity. But this album is easily the best record I've made. It really has some wonderful things about it."

Life is Good, is indeed an impressive work that reveals not only Livingston's gift for writing and playing music, but also, his craftsmanship. When I ask him what distinguishes this new album from his previous records he lights up and immediately extols at length about the virtues of modern technology, especially the wide range of electronic instruments and gadgets that are now available to recording artists. "What a miracle to be able to use drum machines and be able to have perfect time. It was so great to use this stuff. I have very good time, personally, so to work with machines that are consistent was wonderful." Taylor's obsession with perfect timing is never clearer than when he is performing, as he is constantly tapping his foot in time to the beat like a loud metronome. It is so much a part of his unyielding desire to perfect his craft, he is probably unaware that tonight, his foot-tapping is creating a tremendous echo in this small hall, that sometimes dwarfs him.

This is Taylor's first solo appearance in the Bay Area in quite a while and he is understandably, anxious to get on stage. His anxiety instantly dissolves as the crowd of about a hundred greet him with warm and hearty applause. He opens the show with the title track from his new album, and from there, proceeds to charm and cajole the audience with his droll sense of humor and self-effacing manner. He leads the audience through a series of lyrical and melodic songs, some are from his earlier albums, others are from the new album, and quite a few are interpretations of other musicians' work.

"I'm a much better player now than when I was a kid; I'm more versatile. I can take other people's material irrespective of its difficulty and learn it, then after awhile, just turn it into mine." He is extremely at ease on stage, mesmerizing the crowd with his beautiful voice and flawless playing; one hardly notices the difference between the songs that are genuinely his and those that aren't. In his gentlest moments he brilliantly moves the audience with dreamy songs such as "I Will Be in Love With You" (tonight's audience sings along on this one) and from the new album, "City Lights" (which on vinyl, features a vocal duet with big brother James, and John Sebastian on harmonica). In his goofier moments he sings a parody about the Soviet Union jokingly inquiring "Has Sting covered that one yet?"

During the intermission, he works the crowd talking to old friends and making a few new ones along the way. Since he has informed the audience that his birthday is the following day, Livingston is welcomed back for the second set with a loud chorus of "Happy Birthday." He opens this set at the piano, progressing from there back to his guitar where he enchants and delights the audience with his tireless energy and enthusiasm. From there he moves onto the banjo demonstrating his dexterity on the instrument as he parodies country & western, and bluegrass music. He ends the show by reminding the crowd that "Life is Good. I didn't say it was easy, it's never easy, but it is good," and for this gentleman, that's no lie.

Copyright 1988 Hot Ticket! Magazine