After a songwriting sabbatical that kept James Taylor off the performance circuit and close to his town of Washington home over the past 18 months -- except for special appearances -- he's back in the spotlight with a jumbo-sized U.S. tour.

Following liftoff in Portland, Ore., last Friday night, JT and his "All-Star Band" are touching down in 34 cities, 24 states, and Toronto for good measure -- 40 shows in all.

The concerts are billed as offering "some old songs and some new songs."

An enthusiastic review of JT's nearly three-hour appearance last Saturday in Seattle noted that the 66-year-old artist appeared chatty and relaxed in sport coat and jeans, delivering "an expertly paced show, mixing old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, vocals and instrumental jams."

According to music critic Paul de Barros of the Seattle Times, "age does not seem to have affected Taylor's slightly serrated tenor, which sliced across the venue with alternately mournful and celebratory clarity." Observing that Taylor has "a touch of the roving preacher," de Barros also offered high praise for the debut of "You and I," describing it as "a lovely new chamber ballad. Taylor sang the praises of midlife love, with pedal steel guitar and acoustic piano for backup."

Commenting that he "somehow turned ‘Fire and Rain,' a deeply sad song, into a triumphal anthem," the critic wrote that "Taylor's songs gain richness and new meaning as they age.


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No surprise that his July 3 and July 4 gigs at Tanglewood in Lenox are sold out, including the lawn --18,000 tickets sold per night. Since his 1974 debut there, he has appeared during 21 seasons. The July 4th performance is a benefit for Tanglewood and both concerts start at 8 p.m., an hour later than past practice.

Fans may have some luck at SPAC in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., 90 minutes away, where there's limited availability for his July 19 show -- likewise on July 20 at Bethel Woods Center for Performing Arts in New York's Catskills.

Meanwhile, JT's website (jamestaylor.com) includes a new "Life on the Road" section of backstage videos and photos, updated frequently as the tour continues. There's also a "Meet the Band" feature, with each member offering personal anecdotes about life on the road with the artist.

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Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who served as personal secretary to Saint John Paul II for nearly 40 years, celebrated mass with the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception at Eden Hill in Stockbridge recently.

The Rev. Kaz Chwalek termed the cardinal's visit "an extraordinary event in the history of our community and our shrine."

"He was a witness to [John Paul's] holiness and a witness to all his work," said Chwalek, the Marians' provincial superior in the United States and Argentina. "He's a witness to the very life and mission of Pope John Paul II, who we now know as Saint John Paul II."

Marians from throughout the country were on hand to greet Cardinal Dziwisz.

"I'm glad to see there is such a beautiful National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in America," said Dziwisz. "You can tell the Polish heart is beating here, and the hearts of all who worship Divine Mercy are beating here."

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The preschoolers at Berkshire Trail Elementary School embarked on their first learning expedition this year and have been immersed in the world of art, colors and self-portraiture. As a celebration of their artistic journey, the preschoolers will be the featured artists at the Cummington Community House for the month of June. All are welcome to the opening of their show, "Portrait of an Artist," from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, at the community house, 33 Main St., Cummington. The preschoolers will be performing the "Rainbow Song" at 11:30 p.m., and the Berkshire Trail Chorus will be performing at 12:30 p.m.

School staff will also be on to explain Berkshire Trail's role as a designated Expeditionary Learning school.

This project has been supported by a grant from the Seven Towns Educational Partnership Fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation.

County Fare, a weekly column featuring "tales from throughout the Berkshires," is compiled by Eagle staffers.