Chip Taylor probably remains best known as the composer of such 1960s hits as “Wild Thing,” “I Can’t Let Go,” and “Angel of the Morning.” Nevertheless, he just keeps getting better as the years go by.
Returning to music in the mid-'90s after a long stretch as a successful professional gambler, he went on to issue a series of remarkable Americana albums with violinist/singer Carrie Rodriguez between 2002 and 2007. Since then, he has released about half a dozen fine solo recordings, including 2014’s frequently riveting The Little Prayers Trilogy, an effusive three-CD folk set. He has also found time for such side trips as a charming albeit disappointingly brief EP collaboration with John Prine and Queen of Diamonds/Jack of Hearts, which he produced and mostly wrote for pop/soul singers Evie Sands (who recorded the original “Angel of the Morning”) and Billy Vera. And now the prolific Taylor is back with not one but two more releases.
The first of these, Little Brothers, sounds like a follow-up to The Little Prayers Trilogy. As on that album, Taylor employs sandpapery, occasionally spoken vocals, autobiographical lyrics, and minimal instrumentation—mostly just guitar, piano, and organ, though bass and horn accent a few tracks. The tone is confessional; the sentiments are loving and wise. The album appears to have been recorded live in the studio, with rough edges deliberately retained.
The CD, which features backup vocals by Taylor’s three granddaughters on two tracks, focuses largely on family. A childhood snapshot of Taylor with his two brothers—actor Jon Voight and renowned geologist Barry Voight—adorns the cover, and the title cut concerns a dream the singer had about his siblings. Another track pays tribute to Barry and his 11-year-old granddaughter while still other songs, including the affecting “St. Joan” and “Time Goes By,” turn a spotlight on Taylor’s wife. Also here is the understated “Refugee Children,” which was inspired by an encounter the singer had while on tour in Sweden; and the quirky, smile-inducing “Enlighten Yourself,” which is about how to deal with tough times.
A pair of young Canadian golf pros, Brooke Henderson (currently ranked #2 among women players worldwide) and her sister Brittany, inspired the material on the EP I’ll Carry for You, the other new release. You don’t have to be a golf fan to appreciate this album, which features Taylor’s vocal versions of five songs about the sisters’ loving, supportive relationship, plus exquisite instrumental renditions of three of them. A bonus ninth track offers another reading of the title song, this one featuring the ukulele and gorgeous singing of Shaye Zadravec. As on Little Brothers, backup is sparse—mostly just guitar, piano, pump organ, and harmonica, plus vocal assists from the grandkids.
Both of these albums offer fresh evidence of what I’ve been proclaiming loudly for some years now: Taylor is a national treasure. His vocals are as intimate, involving, and inimitable as those of, say, Greg Brown—which is saying plenty. As for his lyrics on these new releases, they prove that Taylor was right when he said, “I’ve always felt that, if a songwriter communicated an honest, passionate feeling—no matter how personal—it would connect with others.”