To most listeners "Sweet Baby James" seems like a fairly simple campfire song, but in fact it takes an experienced guitarist like James Taylor to play and sing it so perfectly. The introduction gives the song it's folkish feel with a popular country riff, a walkdown from some predominant chord to a seventh chord of sorts. The verse starts with a tonic chord that is mirrored by the melody of the song; "There-is-a-young..." which when translated to solfege is "sol-do-mi-sol...", respectively. The next chord is definitely a dominant chord which possibly goes to a predominant. That seems backwards as far as classical music is concerned but of course James Taylor can do whatever he pleases if it sounds nice. I am not so sure about the other chords, but it is easy to hear that the chords change quite often throughout every line of the song. Speaking of the lines of the song there are two verses each followed by a chorus that uses the same chords as the verses but in different orders. The chords that stand out the most are the seventh chords that he lets hang at the end of a few lines because they sound as if they need to resolve. The song is beautifully accompanied by a piano, slide guitar or pedal steel, a bass of sorts, and percussion. The percussion doesn't join in until the first singing of the chorus. The song has a waltz sound because of it's one-two-three, one-two-three beat.
This song is my favorite James Taylor work. He has a high voice so it's easy for him to sing his melodies, but otherwise most men have a hard enough time singing his stuff and even harder time when they are trying to play guitar at the same time, keeping in mind all of the rapidly changing chords. To me this song is extremely comforting as Taylor sings about the man who sings this song to himself in order to fall asleep. It's a song that a mom or dad could use to rock their crying baby to sleep. James Taylor's poetic song writing skills make the lyrics sing beautifully so that anyone could paint his picture in their mind. This song has the potential to really connect with the listener if they give it a try.