James Taylor: My Life in 15 Songs
Michael Putland/Getty

James Taylor's new album, Before This World, is his first collection of original songs in 13 years, though he wasn't exactly taking it easy during that stretch — he toured regularly, released live and cover albums, and helped raise twin boys, now 14. But a few years ago, Taylor realized that he needed to make songwriting a top priority in his life if he was ever going to release another album of new songs. So he borrowed a friend's apartment and camped out to write what would become Before This World, a sweet, reflective disc that evokes memories of his classic 1970s albums. "I'm not the type of musician who reinvents himself over and over again," he says. "I am a slow evolution of a style of recording and writing, and I do think that in some ways I get better at it."

At 67, Taylor is able to look back honestly on his life and career, including the darker moments — from his heroin addiction to his struggles as a parent (he fathered two children, Sally, 41, and singer-songwriter Ben, 38, with ex-wife Carly Simon). "Sally and Ben turned out brilliantly," he says. "But I can't take much credit for them. I was a pretty compromised father. Addiction is delayed development, so I may have been late in becoming an adult."

Sitting in a luxury suite at Fenway Park before his beloved Boston Red Sox took on the New York Yankees one recent evening, Taylor walked us through 50 years of songwriting, going all the way back to getting signed to Apple Records by the Beatles in 1968.