James Taylor's first studio effort since 1997's Grammy Award-lauded Hourglass shows him deftly darting from the acoustic-pop sound that's rendered him one of our generation's top artists to gentle jaz

James Taylor's first studio effort since 1997's Grammy Award-lauded Hourglass shows him deftly darting from the acoustic-pop sound that's rendered him one of our generation's top artists to gentle jazz interludes. No matter what he attempts, this Billboard Century Award honoree (1998) neatly ties his work together with common threads of complex, yet infectious melodies and words that are literate, but accessible. October Road benefits greatly from the reunion of Taylor and producer Russ Titelman (who helmed such Taylor classics as 1975's Gorilla). The two have a comfortable chemistry that's palpable throughout the set, but particularly on the blues-based "Raised Up Family" and the soothing "September Grass." Though a few more lively tunes would've been welcome, October Road marks the return of an artist who is as creatively vital as ever.—LF