photo: Philip Pocella  •  story by A.J. Wachtel

A member of Massachusetts’
First Family of Music, Livingston Taylor has just released a new CD,
Last Alaska Moon, and its wonderful folk-inspired melodies may
be the best music release of the year. And currently on tour performing
his catalog on the left coast, he was cool enough to call me from an
airport between flights and then again the next day during some rare
down time to make sure we were able to talk. Read on and hear what this
master musician has to say:

Noise: You’re a great storyteller and in your
new songs you specifically mention people by their names: Little Jimmy
T, Katy, Erin, Stan, Henry Crossenfeld, Abigail, Grace, and Gwynnie.
Are these real people and are the songs telling about actual events
in your life or are they fictional and mentioned for other reasons?

Livingston: They are generally fictional. Gwynnie I just
used ’cause I liked the name Gwynnie. Gwyneth Paltrow’s name is
Gwynnie, but the song has nothing to do with her, I just really like
the name. I DO know Katy and Stan, and Erin is a young woman who I met
when I was writing the song and I found her a very nice person and I
just used the name Erin. And there’s Erin Burnett from CNBC. I like
the name.

Noise: Many of the song titles on Last
Alaska Moon
seem to have spiritual
meanings: ”Never Lose Hope,” “Answer My Prayer,” “Walk Until
It’s Heaven,” and “Christmas Is Almost Here.” What is your message
to the listener and why is this feeling important for you to share?

Livingston: It’s really not a message. It’s things
that interest me. I don’t have a sense I have a message for my listener.
Hopefully, it’s interesting for other people to listen to. Hope is
a good thing. Walk until it’s heaven; I love that image. To keep it
going till you get it right. Until it does get right. The idea of “moving
forward” and “moving ahead” is very compelling to me.

Noise: The tunes on your new CD range from folk
with an easy acoustic sound to folk ballads, country, bluegrass, and
blues with a southern feel. Can you comment on this?

Livingston: The fact is I’m enamored with good melodies.
I’m a very melodic guy and I’ve loved them since I was a little
boy. In my most successful melodies I write the melodies first then
find a story to put to that melody.

Noise: What musicians do you listen to these days?

Livingston: Well, I find that generally, like the rest
of the world, I pick and chose a song here and there. Anita Baker, Mamas
& the Papas with Cass Elliot, Karen Carpenter, Frank Sinatra. It’s
all very eclectic and all over the board.

Noise: You and your sister Kate both have new releases
in 2010. Is this a coincidence or part of a bigger Taylor music conspiracy?

Livingston: [Laughs] I wish in this case it was the result
of a vast conspiracy but it’s just a coincidence.

Noise: The Taylor family has great songs about your
childhood state, North Carolina with James’s ”Carolina (In My Mind),”
Kate’s “(Sun Did Shine) In Carolina,” and your new “Call Me
Carolina.” What is the story behind this? And what’s the difference
between music scenes down South and those up in New England?

Livingston: It’s the word Carolina. Certain states
have a very sayable word. Like Carolina. New York—less so. New Jersey—it’s
a tough sell. Minnesota—it doesn’t work so well. And more important
is the “Carolina experience.” Down there, the idea of creative arts
as a career choice is very acceptable. Nothing is better than being
in an infrastructure where your music can be heard.

Noise: Kate told me her song “(Sun Did Shine)
in Carolina” is “about my brothers and our time in Chapel Hill,
NC.” What do you think of her recollections?

Livingston: Well, I think her recollections are lovely.
Kate is a wonderful songwriter and a beautiful spirit. I treasure her
recollections, I have different ones.

Noise; Any advice to give to young artists trying
to get their music heard?

Livingston: Yeah, above all else you must play live.
You must bring your music to the people. You must watch it land. You
have to watch what effect it has on your audience.

Noise: What did you find most challenging in recording
and releasing
Last Alaska

Livingston: Again, the great chal-lenge is finding the
financial resources to hire the best players on the planet.

Noise: In “Never Lose Hope” you sing, “even
Boston lost the curse.” Is this a reference to the “curse of the
Babe” and the Red Sox?

Livingston: Yes it is. It was a cheap little line that
just fell in there at the time.

Noise: Tell me about the musicians and the production
behind your new CD.

Livingston: I used a great recording studio, Paragon,
in Franklin, Tennes-see. I had great players and a
great mixer.

Noise: Why Last
Alaska Moon
? Why not Last Vineyard Haven Moon?

Livingston: It just really illiterated great and I really
liked the image of last Alaska moon.

Noise: When I went to your brother A.T.’s wake,
you, James Hughie and Kate sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” together.
Do you ever sing together anymore?

Livingston: We don’t get together terribly often. It’s
light and informal if we do. We’ve spoken about going on tour together
but that’s really in James’s hands. And it’s not something he’s
waiting to do other than single shows.

Noise: There’s another generation of Taylor family
performers. Do you ever get together with them and sing?

Livingston: Absolutely! My niece Sally and my nephew
Ben. I love to play with those guys, they’re great music forces—and
it’s FUN!

Noise: What’s in the future for you? Are you very
prolific these days? Are you writing songs for your next CD yet?

Livingston: I’m writing all the time. The great problem
isn’t writing—it’s getting the financing to get these projects
to life. Right now Shelly Berg, head of the music department at the
University of Miami and I are thinking of doing a project together.
And I have plenty of things in the works like that.

Noise: How are people on the Left Coast enjoying
your shows?

Livingston: Yeah, again, when I come out West people
who haven’t had a chance to see me in a while come to the shows. It’s
beautiful and much appreciated.

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