Tour Profile: One Man Band

Mar 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Nick Russell

A SINGULAR SOUND FOR JAMES TAYLOR

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James Taylor's One Man Band tour isn't quite as solitary as the name implies. There are, after all, other players onstage: The talented Larry Goldings accompanies him on piano, keyboards and harmonium; and an imposing drum machine that looks like it was handmade from a closet full of Rube Goldberg's spare parts makes a pair of appearances. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus (including Taylor's wife, Kim) also joins the show, collaborating with him via video screens during “My Traveling Star” and “Shower the People.”

Playing rooms as large as 3,600 seats but making most stops in venues built for 2,500 to 2,700, Taylor's current pared-down approach to touring is, as he says, “An intimate retrospective of 40 years' worth of songs and the people, places and events that inspired them.” The One Man Band performances weave a full 20-song concert set with a rich narrative that draws from six decades in the artist's life. Illustrated with photos, drawings and more from Taylor's private archives, the monologue provides a time line and reveals the back-stories and inspirations behind the songs.

“The audience gets to hear all the songs,” notes David Morgan, the show's front-of-house audio engineer; Andy Sottile handles monitor engineering duties. “They share in everything from a look at James' old black-and-white photos and home movies to stories of past girlfriends and adventures. There are plenty of opportunities for fun, too.”

Morgan began working with Taylor during the artist's 2005 Summer's Here tour. Since March of 2006, Taylor has alternately traveled either with his full band or as a one-man act. The one-man show was captured for release on DVD this past summer by Sydney Pollack and Don Mischer when Taylor performed at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Mass.

THE VOCAL APPROACH

“The first thing I wanted to examine when I came into this was his vocal sound,” Morgan recalls. “He had been using a wide-pattern cardioid mic, an AKG 535, for quite a while, and had made a switch to in-ear monitors some time ago. I always try to put myself in the performer's place. We used the 535 for the four background vocalists on Whitney Houston in 1986 and 1987, so I know it pretty well. It's a great-sounding mic, but it lets in a lot of the outside world. I reasoned that if I were James, I'd want a vocal mic a bit more suited for use with my in-ears, a mic exhibiting greater off-axis rejection while still producing a rich and accurate sound.”

In 2004, Morgan latched onto a pair of new unmarked prototype mics from Shure: One was a cardioid, the other a supercardioid. Morgan first used the supercardioid model on backing vocalist Margaret Dorn while touring with Bette Midler.

“It had a realistic vocal quality to it I had never experienced with a microphone designed for live sound applications,” Morgan recalls. “It was clear, transparent, sweet sounding, quite honest and it worked well in Margaret's in-ears. Quite often with a tight-patterned mic, off-axis info comes back hard and distorted, but that wasn't true with this one. I went and listened with ear buds to what she was hearing, and the background info sounded amazingly true.”

While he was working on Taylor's Summer's Here tour, Morgan's no-name microphones began being called KSM9s. By the time he showed up at One-Man Band rehearsals in 2006, he was using production model KSM9s.

THE GUITAR SOUND

Taylor engages his audience with a pair of Olson acoustic guitars: a full-bodied concert model and a cutaway. A Telecaster makes an appearance for “Chili Dog” and “Steamroller,” but the Olsons get the most use onstage.

The Telecaster is routed through a Line 6 PODxt Proa, which, according to Morgan, “works fine for this purpose, giving us a nice, distorted, bluesy sound without destroying the acoustic vibe of what's going on. We didn't want a single amp onstage.”

Conversely, each of Taylor's acoustic guitars is outfitted with L.R. Baggs LB6 Series pickups. A unitary pickup and saddle commonly used by large-venue performers over the years, the LB6 is used with a Radial Engineering Tonebone PZ-Pre preamp leading into a Fishman Aura Acoustic Imaging Blender. “This combination gives a dimensionality to the instrument that enhances the illusion of space,” Morgan explains. “Taking this route was all part of our never-ending search for reality; the strings sound as if they are resonating in wood, not across a crystal. Making an acoustic guitar sound real is a major sound reinforcement challenge.”






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