Patriotism and James Taylor’s forthcoming single made for a splendid Fourth of July celebration that emphasized the familiar and made it pleasantly ingratiating. “On the Fourth of July,” which Columbia Records will ship to radio before the Aug. 13 release of his album “October Road,” was one of three new Taylor tunes that made it into his short yet affecting set sandwiched between John Williams and the L.A. Philharmonic briskly visiting American classics and a few of his familiar movie themes.
Taylor, who did a wondrous job reading the words of Abraham Lincoln in Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” in the first half and then topped it with “America” in the finale, apologized for bringing in new works when he knew the audience wanted to hear his vintage easygoing folky tunes. Doesn’t matter, he suggested quite rightly — they all sound similar. “Fourth,” named for the date in the calendar but with no Independence Day overtones, is traditional smooth Taylor; “Mean Old Man,” the best of the lot, displayed his rarely exhibited facility with a show tune-styled rhyme scheme and a swinging tempo.
The golden oldies “Country Road,” “Carolina on My Mind” and “Fire and Rain” benefited from Taylor’s use of two jazz musicians behind him, pianist Larry Goldings and guitarist John Pizzarelli, as well as from the nuanced wash provided by the L.A. Phil.
Williams led the Philharmonic through two of his non-film pieces, 1986’s Statue of Liberty tribute number “Liberty Fanfare” and the ’96 Olympics theme “Summon the Heroes,” which rely on some of Williams’ oft-used motifs, and “Arlington,” a dull and somber selection from his score for “JFK.” At the end of the evening, after the Sousa marches and fireworks display, Williams put the pedal to the metal and concluded things with what remains his finest overall score, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”