Taxi Chain,
Smarten Up
(NorthernBlues, 2004)

Part Celtic, part blues, part country, featuring bagpipes and sax plus some other influences thrown in -- you cannot fault Taxi Chain for not being eclectic. And at their best they are quite interesting and fun.

Taxi Chain is two different bands, one when Grier Coppins is playing bagpipes on instrumentals, and the other when he sings. The instrumentals are catchy, as might be expected with the mixture of Coppins' Highland pipes and Jim Bish on sax. Neither Coppins, Bish, nor guitarist Ayron Mortley are virtuosos, but Bish can at least play the four major types of saxophone and even piccolo to add variety.

They are joined on most of these cuts by a fiddler and/or keyboard player. Titles like "James Brown Ate My Bagpipe" give you a hint at the way R&B is stirred in with jazz and world music to create mixes that are surprisingly seamless. "Tandoori Mustache," with Mortley on mandolin and tenor banjo, even visits Indian music without using any Eastern instruments.

Coppins also sings his own tunes, which are the Americana/swing/novelty genre. Coppins is not a great lyricist, as the opening lyrics to "Cut Me a Key" might indicate: "She like sugar in her tea/She like ice cream/but she don't like me/Good God I'm free." What's worse, he recites instead of sings the lyrics on "It's Your Birthday."

Still, "Memphis," which opens the CD (and closes it with a refrain) is not a bad country tune, and neither is the slightly quirky "Buck a Joy."

Overall, Taxi Chain keeps the meter running on this one.

- Rambles
written by Dave Howell
published 10 April 2004

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