Chip Taylor has led a nomadic life. The brother of actor John Voight, Chip started off with a less-than-successful stint as a professional golfer, dabbled as a songwriter and did pretty well for himself, writing hits in the ‘60s for The Hollies, Janis Joplin, and Merrilee Rush, wrote the proto-garage anthem “Wild Thing” (yes, that one, for better and worse), journeyed to Hollywood and acted for a while (Melvin and Howard), and dropped out of the music business for twenty years and survived as a professional gambler. But he saved the best act for last, re-emerging six years ago as a wizened, world-weary troubadour a la Robert Earl Keen and Guy Clark, with young Texas fiddler and Lucinda Williams soundalike Carrie Rodriguez in tow.
Taylor and Rodriguez have recorded five albums now, and they’re all worth tracking down. The Trouble With Humans, from 2003, is probably my favorite, but you could do a lot worse than starting with their newly released Live from the Ruhr Triennale. It’s a fine compendium of the best songs from the previous four albums, and it’s the only place to hear a Chip Taylor career overview, since Taylor includes not only his newer duets with Carrie, but also his own versions of songs that were hits for others ("Angel of the Morning,” usually associated with Juice Newton, and yes, the inevitable rave-up closer on “Wild Thing"). There are also great covers of Merle Haggard ("Today I Started Loving You Again’) and Johnny Cash ("Big River” and “Long Black Veil"), and a surprisingly effective honky-tonk take on Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline.” The band is phenomenal—the Session Men Who Play on Two Thirds of All Recorded Music From the New Millenium (Bill Frisell, David Piltch, Greg Leisz), augumented with Carrie’s jumping fiddle and Buddy Miller’s twanging guitar work.
Basically, Chip and Carrie cover all the bases. If you’re a fan of great country duet singing, telepathic interplay between band members, or great songwriting, there’s much here that will delight you. If you happen to like all three, as I do, then you will be grinning from ear to ear.