PORTLAND, Maine — If you only caught the first hour of the James Taylor show Tuesday night, you got your money’s worth.
“The hits just keep on coming,” said a relaxed and tuneful Taylor at a packed Cross Insurance Arena. And he made sure they did. The Berkshire balladeer gave the people what they wanted. “Country Road,” “Fire and Rain,” “Your Smiling Face” and “Carolina In My Mind” were delivered with a youthful, tuneful zeal.
“Thank you,” someone shouted after his soulful 1970 hit “Fire and Rain” rang through as honestly and pure as the day it was released on his second album, “Sweet Baby James.”
At 67, this was not a baby James, nor a senior James. It was a gentleman James who opened the show with a bow. Dressed in a sports coat and cap, he sat on a stool delivering his songs like the legendary troubadour he has become.
Taylor joked, jumped and had fun with the crowd and his big band. The voice of summer for 50 years kicked the season off in Maine on a sea of warm vibes.
New twists on “Country Road” added syncopated rhythms to the “pre huggers anthem,” a way of life that views “nature as church.” The crowd favorite was accompanied by a cool video show of trees projected on vertical pillars, giving the sweet song a new edge.
Touring with his first new album since 2002, “Before This World,” Taylor seemed enlivened by new material and riffs on the old. “Today Today Today” and “Montana,” which he wrote while his family was skiing at Big Sky, sound vintage Taylor.
The jaunty “Shed A Little Light” got the crowd on their feet before intermission. When he took a break, fans rushed the stage to get his autograph and shake his hand. Taylor obliged without annoyance or handlers in the way. He sat at the edge and signed each slip of paper and photograph, and he patiently posed for photos.
The sultry “Carolina In My Mind” came with a story. When Taylor, a North Carolina native, signed with Apple Records, the Beatles record label in 1968, his career was launched. At this time he was missing the sunshine and moonshine of home.
“I couldn’t believe my luck,” he told the crowd. “I just wish I could remember it. I think we had a good time,” he said.
“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time. Any fool can do it. There ain’t nothing to it,” Taylor sang on “Secret O’ Life,” the show’s opener.
He’s got that right.