Taylor Made Companion
Chip Taylor (born John Wesley Voight) will of course never be as famous as his Midnight Cowboy-starring older sibling Jon Voight. However, Taylor’s artistry has probably reached more individuals than all his brothers’ films combined. A master of both simplicity and detail, with a keen sense for memory-adhesive melodies, Taylor’s songs have spawned #1 singles for artists in the ‘60s, ‘80s and ‘00s. In 1966, the Troggs took Taylor’s “Wild Thing” to the top of the charts. (Of course, Jimi Hendrix and nearly every other garage band in the world has covered the insanely catchy ditty, as well.) In 1981, Juice Newton scored a #1 hit with Taylor’s timeless pre-marital sex ballad, “Angel of the Morning”. In 1968, Merilee Rush had a top 10 hit with the same song. In 2001, none other than hip-hop/reggae artist Shaggy scored a No. 1 hit with a funkified take on the classic. In between penning two of the most recognizable pop standards of the last 50 years, Taylor also wrote or co-wrote songs for Linda Ronstadt (“I Can’t Let Go”), Janis Joplin (“Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)”) and a host of others ranging from Frank Sinatra to Waylon Jennings. Impressed yet?
Throughout the ‘70s, Taylor tried his hand at recording. He made a series of strong albums that won him critical acclaim and respect among his musical peers but little by way of mass appeal. Then, from 1980 to 1995, Taylor left the music business all together to try his hand at gambling—he’s reportedly one helluva a card shark—not returning again until the release of Hit Man in 1996. Since then, Taylor has averaged about an album per year, which, much like his ‘70s output, have garnered strong critical reviews and won him a small but loyal following.
The latest installment in Taylor’s “comeback series” is Let’s Leave This Town. On it, Taylor shares co-billing with a beautiful young Texas fiddle player/vocalist by the name of Carrie Rodriguez. Like her much older counterpart, Rodriguez makes up for her lack of vocal range with a smart sense of phrasing and inflection—Taylor and Rodriguez are no George and Tammy or Kenny and Dottie, but their everyman voices blend beautifully. Most songs are fleshed out with acoustic guitar, bass and drum with the occasional mandolin and organ thrown in for good Texas measure. A bright spot of nearly every track—and the crux of the instrumental “Midnight on the Water”—is the emotive fiddle styling of Ms. Rodriguez. Whether bending the strings for a weeper or sawing away as if at an old fashioned hoe-down, this lovely lady Taylor discovered last year at South by Southwest (annual mega music conference in Austin) hits the mark with the balanced assurance of a seasoned veteran.
When it is all said and done, though, the true highlight of this disc is the songs themselves, primarily penned by Taylor with a pair of well-chosen public domain numbers (including the instrumental) and co-write. “Do Your Part” is a playful plea for sound environmental living that skillfully stays on the sweet side of didactic. (In less capable hands a number like this would’ve most likely been reduced to a tired Green Party-member rant.) On “Sweet Tequila Blues”, Taylor and Rodriguez sound as if they’re sharing a warm smile as they sing about returning to their beloved Austin. On the poignant “Storybook Children”, the duo turn such simple lyrics as “How happy would we be if only we were storybook children” into a stirring reflection of the human condition. And on “You Are Danger”, Taylor shows that his uncanny knack for the kind of soaring melodies that cemented “Angel of the Morning” into the subconscious of half the damn planet has far from diminished with age. “You Are Danger” is the kind of song that could easily be another #1 for Taylor if given the slick Nashville treatment by a Trisha Yearwood type. Stripped of any showboating vocals or studio gloss, it’s a likely public radio treasure in the caring arms of Taylor and his new sound mate Rodriguez.