Staying with the theme of how country music could be, here’s a favourite record by Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez. Taylor is a singer-songwriter who emerged as a writer of hit songs in the 60s (‘Angel of the Morning’ and ‘Wild Thing,’ for example). Although he was born and grew up in New York, he had a strong predilection for country music from an early age, and that’s where he has now returned.
Taylor met Carrie Rodriguez, an Oberlin and Berklee College of Music trained singer/songwriter/fiddler, during an in-store performance she gave at the South by Southwest Music Festival in 2001. The two now perform as a duo. Four albums and an EP into their journey together, their music is a low-key, intelligent kind of country/folk – not entirely dissimilar to, say, the Texas singer/songwriter Townes van Zandt. Anchored by Taylor’s strong rhythm guitar and harmonica and Rodriguez’ fiddle, the songs feature insightful lyrics and a kind of “old time country” feel.
They also couldn’t be further removed from the Carrie Underwoods and Jessica Simpsons that seem to pass for country music today. Taylor and Rodriguez have perfectly matching voices – hers a strong cowgirl soprano with a Texas drawl, his a refined baritone with occasional carelessly slurred syllables and frequent moments where he speaks more than he sings. The lyrics are precise and emotionally spot-on throughout – this is material that’s carefully thought out, written to be performed by these two performers, meant to showcase their unique abilities. The Trouble With Humans is a beautiful record about grown-up relationships whose words often manage to encapsulate a core truth in the simplest way possible, yet in a way that we’ve never heard before. ‘Curves and Things’ and the title track should be prescribed material in English class, they’re so good.