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James Taylor To Play Free Concerts For Obama

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Singer James Taylor is so pleased that North Carolina is a presidential election battleground that he's returning to the state he considers home for five free concerts to support Democrat Barack Obama.

Taylor will perform the concerts in Charlotte, Asheville, Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Wilmington beginning Sunday. The singer and songwriter, who grew up in Chapel Hill after moving there from Boston, hasn't lived in the state for decades.

But the man whose song "Carolina in My Mind" is an anthem to the state told The Associated Press on Thursday that he still identifies as a North Carolinian and has "deep emotional ties to the state."

"The change that's happening in North Carolina could lead America into a new spirit of engagement and responsibility and get people back into their government again and back into working as a team," Taylor said in a phone interview from the Massachusetts Turnpike. "North Carolina is in a position to own that change."

North Carolina's status as a battleground state this year is a surprise, considering that voters haven't backed a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976. But public polls and an avalanche of Democratic voter registrations suggest North Carolina is no longer a lock for Republicans.

The presidential candidates and their associates have campaigned hard here in recent weeks _ and they're not finished yet. Republican John McCain will visit Concord on Saturday, and Obama is holding a rally Sunday in Fayetteville.

And Taylor, an almost-native son, may be the best musician to help Obama because he's unlikely to be viewed as an outsider. His father, Isaac, was born and raised in Morganton, then moved to Boston for medical school. After his residency, "he moved us down there basically as soon as he could," Taylor said, and eventually became dean of the University of North Carolina Medical School.

The 60-year-old Taylor left the state when he was 18 but returns to see friends.

Taylor, who also worked for Democrat John Kerry four years ago and performed in Raleigh for former Gov. Jim Hunt when he challenged Sen. Jesse Helms in 1984, described this election "as perhaps the most important one in my lifetime."

"It's a great relief to see someone running who believes government can do good things for people," said Taylor, who also has released a new CD of cover songs, appropriately titled "Covers." "We've been dismantling government for years on the federal level. It's a cynical approach that government is bad and needs to be dismantled. That's not an option, really."

The financial meltdown is further proof that the country needs a change in leadership, he said.

"I think we've had government by special interest for a long time," he said. "We've been in a climate of people looking to deregulate their businesses, looking for a quick profit. It's been at the expense of our economic stability. Those people should take it to Vegas."