I stumbled upon Chip Taylor more than 10 years ago. I was trying to discover Bill Frisell‘s country side after listening to his Good Dog Happy Man (Elektra Nonesuch – 1999) and came across Red Dog Tracks (Back Porch Records – 2005) where he appears as a fancy collaborator: it was almost shocking. How could I have missed out on all that American gold until then? A yellow fever struck me and I began to wander without reference among his production, which is as deep as it is refractory to any media exposure.
Chip Taylor is a luminous hidden gem.
A reference genre and a being under the radar that clashes with his entire biography. Chip is in fact a Voight, James Wesley Voight, from New York, “I wasn’t born in Tennessee” he sang: brother of Jon Voight from Deliverance (John Boorman,1972) and uncle of that Angelina Jolie of whom we can say everything we want (i love her), except that she lives in anonymity.
Known for being the author of the famous Wild Thing launched by The Troggs and covered by everyone, Chip is instead a hermit: a handful of faithful musicians including John Platania‘s guitar from Van Morrison‘s court, a handful of chords, a warm voice that transforms beautiful lyrics into an intensity that can be cut with a knife, in which the silences sound very heavy. Penetrating atmospheres, real life, even domestic, private: down, down to the abysses of intimacy.
A New Yorker converted to Country who finds himself preaching from a discography spanning 50 years.
Tired of the music world, he stopped in the 1980s to pursue a career as a professional gambler, touring the countless casinos that criss-cross the highways. And the return in the early 90s showed his definitive face, a true rebirth, bringing us his current, highly personal style. A depth built on the foundations of an America suspended between the end of one century and the beginning of another, travelled far and wide, between great vices and virtues, between decline and human splendour.
Not an epic of suffering, however, Chip Taylor brings abundant human understanding and warmth, even a lingering happiness that shines through, against the light, in the stories of his everyday and simple “being in the world”.
An anomalous musicality made up mostly of whispered ballads, full of events and prestigious collaborations, which in my opinion culminates in the last part of his career, that of maturity. Aware of omitting the classic works of the 70s, especially those of the Warner Years (Last Chance, This Side of the Big River) or the beautiful return in the 90s with Living Room Tapes (Gadfly – 1997), Chip Taylor reaches an expressive peak in the works from 2000 to the present day, keeping the level of activity and quality very high in the last few years: Whiskey Salesman (2019), Fix your Words (2018) and the very fresh In Sympathy of a Heartbreak in 2020. Of this two decades, there are three works that I go looking for most often…
A Song I Can Live With (Train Wreck – 2017)
It is a beautiful intimate diary that looks inside the conscience, as a mirror on the whole world that leaves no need to take a step further.
“Good morning from NY, it is january 11th 2016, David Bowie died yesterday…”“Until it Hurts”
The Little Prayers Trilogy (Train Wreck – 2014)
In the wake of 2006’s “Unglorious Hallelujah”, a trilogy: three discs in one (“Behind an Iron Door”, “Love and Pain”, “Little Prayers”) in which the “vertical”, upward vision is privileged, without any imbalance towards the Gospel. Chip Taylor’s dedication is always subdued and delicate, touching, without emphasis, like his music. Songs such as “Little Prayers”, “Queen of the World”, “Merry F’n Chirstmas” confirm the desire to look at the world with spiritual disenchantment.
Do unto others – as you would have them do unto you
Merry f’n Christmas
Behind walls, behind bars, behind scars – reaching out to you
…we’ve been too long on the border line
not enough love – not enough time
F**k All The Perfect People (Train Wreck – 2012)
Probably being born and raised in New York, as well as coming from Chicago for John Prine, gives the themes dealt with in the country environment a strong “solidarity” vein. Often with daring dives, as in “Nothin’ (I suppose)” or “I Know Dark”, or with the greater optimism of “The Dutchman Blues” or “Too Dynamic”.
Poetics intended as a tale (the title track) that privileges and looks with protective and paternal instinct at those who start from the bottom, from a reality that does not make discounts, until it becomes letter and sound. Each of us will decide for ourselves whether it is literature or just songs.
Now I heard some stories ’bout Carolina Madison“Red Dog Tracks”
Seth Weaver saw her kissin’ your Pascagoula man
It was down by the water and they shared their passion
Where the red dogs did their dancing