James Taylor’s Before This World, out this month on Concord Records, is the Grammy Award–winning singer/songwriter’s first album of original music since 2002’s October Road. The new release presents Taylor with his stellar band, and guest artists include Sting and Yo-Yo Ma. Taylor’s longtime friend and collaborator Dave O’Donnell produced, recorded and mixed the effort, working with engineer Rick Kwan and assistant engineers Tyler Hartman, Scott Moore, Fernando Lodeiro, Tommy Joyner, Justin Rose and Jay Zubricky.
The project was headquartered at Taylor’s home studio in Massachusetts, TheBarn, with additional tracking at United Recording in Hollywood, Avatar in New York City, MilkBoy the Studio in Philadelphia, GCR Audio in Buffalo, N.Y., and Four Seasons Hotels in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Of TheBarn, O’Donnell says, “It’s out in the woods, so it’s fairly quiet. We bring in the gear we need. I have a Yamaha DM 2000 for monitoring and we brought in Neves, APIs, some Millennia, and Seventh Circle Audio mic preamps that you can build from a kit.” O’Donnell recorded the album to Pro Tools at 96k.
“Because James was away all year on the road, we decided to mix on the DM 2000 with a bunch of analog gear, so we could work in my studio and back at TheBarn,” O’Donnell says. “I would set up the mixes and get them in shape, and then James would listen and give his input. The song draws you in; it’s centered around the vocal, and all those added elements are there to enhance the music, but not distract from it. So when mixing, you start by capturing the feel of the track as it was originally laid down, and go from there. Any time I tried to push things to be louder or brighter, it just seemed that the emotion got lost. You just need to let the music lead the way.”