In the early days of Chip Taylor’s remarkable career, he penned some of the biggest
hits of the 1960s, most notably “Wild Thing” (Jimi Hendrix, the Troggs) and “Angel of the Morning” (Merilee Rush). Then, in 1980, after releasing several solo albums, he stopped recording and began a successful 16-year run as a professional gambler. He returned to music in the late 90s, issuing a series of superb duet CDs with Texas singer and fiddler Carrie Rodriguez. Now, in Taylor’s incredibly prolific latest period, he has reverted to solo recording, delivering about an album a year over the past decade, including at least one two-disc set and one three-CD collection.
A Song I Can Live With, Taylor’s mesmerizing latest release, offers more proof that he deserves to be considered a national treasure, right up there with folks like Greg Brown and the late Jesse Winchester and Steve Goodman. Backed mostly by piano and guitar, he sings—and sometimes talks—about everything from his love for his wife Joan to a cable TV horseracing channel.
“Good morning from New York,” he says, halfway through “Until It Hurts,” the second track. “It is January 11th, 2016. David Bowie died yesterday.” Then he reminisces about Bowie, Lou Reed, and Eric Andersen, and the nature of art. You’ll feel as if you’re sitting beside him in his living room, soaking up the insights as he reads from his diary.
Taylor wrote most of this introspective, emotional material during a recent brief burst of creativity. “As are most of my songs, all the songs in this album are stream-of-consciousness based. In other words, I didn’t plan on writing about anything particular. In each instance, I picked up my guitar and, at some point, words and music flowed that gave me some sort of chill that inspired me to continue—mainly to find out, as a listener, what I was talking about.”
That approach comes through from first track to last on this intimate, understated, and masterful album. You never get the sense that Taylor is looking for a hit. He’s looking for the truth.
John Craigie, No Rain, No Rose. Though Portland, Oregon-based John Craigie has released nine previous albums, I confess I’d never heard of him until this CD arrived in the mail. You can be sure I’ll be on the lookout for anything he does from now on, though. His vocals are as personality-soaked as, say, John Prine’s; and his expertly crafted lyrics and melodies are rich, warm, and emotional; so is his music, which incorporates such instruments as violin, mandolin, and dobro. Craigie recorded the album in a living room in Portland, Oregon, and kept the tape rolling between takes, preserving between-song chatter that gives the album the feeling of an informal jam session. (He cites the influence of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s classic Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which employed the same technique.) Craigie wrote all the songs except for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’s “Tumbling Dice,” which he reinvents with a laid-back cover in which you can actually make out all the words. Great stuff.
Landon Spradlin, No More Blue Mondays. Spradlin’s emotive guitar work energizes this reissue of an album that first appeared in 1995. Other pluses include a versatile backup band that features Eric Clapton’s sidemen; and the artist’s soulful, gravelly vocals (think Joe Cocker), which are a good match for the material. On the menu: five gospel-influenced originals and four covers, among them “Drift Away,” the 1973 Dobie Gray hit.
Seela, Track You Down. This collection of pop/rock love songs from Seela—a Canadian who now lives in Austin, Texas, and whose full name is Seela Misra—has its ups and downs. The best of it is strong indeed, however, and suggests that she could be just an album or two away from wider recognition. The finest tracks here tend to be the ones where her seductive, intense vocals are most prominent in the mix, such as the gospel-tinged “Brave” and the plaintive “At a Loss.”