Chip Taylor: Yonkers NY

Call it his “Coat of Many Colors” if you want, but whatever you call it, there’s nothing ambiguous about it.

Chip Taylor

Yonkers NY

Label: Train Wreck
US Release Date: 2009-10-26
UK Release Date: 2009-10-26

Ah, famous dynasties. Where to begin? Our culture (especially the popular aspect of it) is saturated by the idea of a family name and what that name and pedigree instills, contains and even represents. Some dynasties in Hollywood are good (the Coppolas, for instance), some are tarnished with some whack jobs (the Baldwins, we’ll say) and some are so irrelevant and terrible, it hurts to even think about them (Joe Simpson, we’re looking at you!). But few are as eccentric and eclectic as the Voights.

With a roster that includes a fraternal trio of a scientist, an actor and a country songwriter and a second generation that includes uber-star Angelina Jolie, the Voights are one of the most interesting of the Hollywood dynasties. The country songwriter, James Wesley Voight, records under the pseudonym Chip Taylor and, with his latest album, has recorded something more revealing, personal and intimate than anything VH1 or E! could ever assemble.

Accumulated with a collage of family photos, black-and-white still photos and inserts providing backing information, Yonkers NY is equally heartbreaking, enlightening and sympathetic. The album is work of an individual reflecting back on life with a sigh, a smile, a tear and a raised fist. The closest thing the album resembles in recent pop culture memory is the video Johnny Cash released for “Hurt” a few years back. If the album never reaches the zenith of the mentioned video, it has more to do with Cash’s iconic placement in history than a lack on Voight’s songwriting.

And Voight’s songwriting has never been sharper. He writes in the same autobiographical and vernacular-based spirit as Dolly Parton, with a lore for the rowdy and dangerous that recalls vintage Hank Williams. Throughout the album, several key details of cornerstone moments in the singer’s family’s life are revealed with devastating attention to detail. Voight sings them with a leathered and worn plainspoken vocal style that perfectly complements the narratives he’s composed.

On the terrific opening number, “Barry Go On”, the singer reflects the fictitious stories his father used to tell him and his brothers. As oppose to resorting to simplifying the story, or worse, turning it into a laundry list of pointless one-liners, Voight builds the naivety of he and his brothers and turns it into ambition and admiration for their father. That same sense of ambition and admiration runs throughout the rest of the album and lends a nice sense of coherence to the album.

There’s a real juxtaposition of the singer’s feelings towards his family and his personal dreams, but Voight manages to highlight how the two are both different and similar. “Bastard Brothers” embodies this mindset better than anything else of the album. The story is hilarious, heartfelt and heartbreaking with specifics on seemingly trivial but essential moments in the singer’s life, including receiving a ukulele for Christmas. The narrative progresses from the protagonist’s brothers blockading his chance at fame to the singer signing a contract on a black record label. The fascination with black music and culture appears again on “Saw Mill River Road”, which opens with the lines, “Way down in Macon they was singin’ the blues / back home in Yonkers we had nothing to choose / no country / no race records / just some old white stuff / For some of us boys / it just wasn’t good enough”. The rockabilly guitar burn of “Hey Johnny” features the couplet, “Crazy man crazy / ain’t no white boy music / nothing gonna stop it now”.

The songs are perfectly complemented by the retro-leaning Country production that comes courtesy of the singer himself. The horse-gambling tale of “Without Horses” is boosted by a subtle dobro wash. “No Dice” turns into a slow-burning bar number. “Yonker Girls” is surprising sonically hedonistic for Voight’s vocals while the closing title track raises and falls where the stanzas demand it. Voight smartly chose a production style that never draws too much attention to itself, leaving the focus on the songs themselves. The same could be said about his singing. Rarely does he try to sing outside his limited range, a move that bears wonderful results.

Call it his “Coat of Many Colors” if you want, but whatever you call it, there’s nothing ambiguous about it. Voight lays all the cards down on the table, throws in his chips and doesn’t ask you to like him. He doesn’t even ask you to listen, but writes so profoundly you can’t help but be drawn to it, even if at times listening feels like intrusion. Honest, poignant, humorous and authentic, Yonkers NY leaves little questions left. It almost makes you wonder what would happen if Angelia ever decided to plug in and confess.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.