Chip Taylor,
I'll Carry for You
(Train Wreck, 2016)

Chip Taylor,
Little Brothers
(Train Wreck, 2016)

Practically everything ever written about Chip Taylor, who was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame this past June, opens by identifying him as (1) a successful 1960s/'70s pop composer who wrote, most famously, "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning," and (2) a brother to actor Jon Voight and volcanologist Barry Voight; Taylor was born James Voight. Some years ago, influenced by the late Guy Clark, he refashioned himself a singer-songwriter in a contemporary folk vein. Once part of a duo with Carrie Rodriguez, he has since gone off on his own and released a number of CDs on his Train Wreck label.

As you would expect, he's pretty good, an appealing singer with a warm, conversational voice and an ear for simple but catchy melodies. He possesses a compassionate view of his fellow human beings, sometimes expressed in un-confrontational but still pointed songs of social commentary. These qualities are in evidence in Little Brothers, a full-length CD (39 minutes), and I'll Carry for You, an accompanying disc (29 minutes) marketed as an EP.

It must be said, though, that some of the songs are fairly slight. They're not unpleasant or dumb, but you may wonder why he felt compelled to share them with a larger audience. The title song, for example, is about a dream he had of his two brothers and of their dispute with him about how much to tip a cab driver. Taylor then explains that in real life his brothers are more generous-hearted than they acted in the dream. I'm prepared to believe him without quite grasping why he would judge this the stuff of a song.

On the other hand, "Refugee Children" (also on Brothers) is as touching as any musical statement I've heard so far this year. In an era of mean-spiritedness and fear of the Other, Taylor manages to evoke our common humanity and our responsibility to our fellows without ever getting sappy about it. It's Taylor at his best, as both a songwriter and a man of decent instincts. "Time Goes By" is a breathtaking affirmation of enduring love, a kind of song that usually gets written badly. On the other side of that is the (also autobiographical) "Bobby I Screwed Up," which will resonate with anyone who has done something in life he or she deeply regrets and recalls with pain and embarrassment. In other words, all of us.

I'll Carry for You, Taylor says, chronicles the young, real-life golfing sisters Brooke and Brittany Henderson, who take turns caddying for each other, thus the title. Taylor identifies himself as a lifelong golf enthusiast. As one of whom the opposite can be stated, I hear the songs more broadly, an interpretation Taylor encourages in the liner notes. With his grandchildren joining in some of the choruses, this has the feeling of a home recording intended for family and friends. Sometimes, as in the affecting "Let Me Fall in My Own Way," the impression is that one is listening in on Taylor's private, most innermost thoughts. I wonder, by the way, if Taylor got the idea from the traditional Appalachian "Let Me Fall," but then, there's no indication in his music that he's versed -- unlike his mentors Clark and Townes Van Zandt -- in oldtime folk songs.

After five songs I'll Carry reprises three of them in instrumental versions by keyboard player Goran Grini, concluding with a vocal reprise of the title tune by Shave Zadravec, a woman with an impressively nuanced vocal style.

If you haven't heard Taylor before, these probably aren't the recordings to start your acquaintanceship with. Still, Taylor's talent being a large one, his unique gift is evident even in the mostly small moments preserved in the current releases.

music review by
Jerome Clark

20 August 2016

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