On hits like "Handy Man," "Up on the Roof" and "How Sweet It Is (to be Loved by You)," James Taylor's way of interpreting other songwriters' hits has been to turn them into James Taylor songs. His honeyed drawl is supple enough to accommodate R&B and country standards, sweetening the savory tang of their rural sources. That approach guides Covers, where Taylor assays the likes of the Drifters' "On Broadway," Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" and Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." He softens the arrangements — guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, with horn and string embellishments — and brings the lyrics to the fore, emphasizing the songs as stories. Taylor doesn't compete with his sources, he defers to them — a strategy that's gracious and wise. His sly reading of "(I'm a) Road Runner" can't touch Jr. Walker's garage-soul masterpiece, but it's joyous nonetheless. His glee in rendering "Why Baby Why," George Jones' chronicle of obsessive love, is palpable, and he brings a similar celebratory energy to Eddie Cochran's classic "Summertime Blues." Covers, then, is a fan's notes: a great singer-songwriter playing DJ, showcasing songs he loves for listeners who love him.
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