At 76, Taylor shows little sign of slowing down. At the tail end of 2014, he released "The Little Prayers Trilogy" to huge critical acclaim and, recently inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, he returns now with his 23rd album, another conversational collection of sandpapery semi-spoken songs that, predominantly backed by Goran Grini on keyboards with guitar legend John Platania on three tracks, intimately touch on the personal and the political.
Titled for and after himself and his siblings, actor Jon Voight and volcanologist Barry, a childhood photo of the three forming the cover, it opens with "Barry and the Buffalo", the simple family story about his oldest brother and his 11-year-old golfing prodigy granddaughter, Alex, going to a competition in Buffalo that becomes a meditation on how, in life, we all need some great rides home.
Family looms large. The piano-backed title track obviously concerns the Voight siblings, a musing on their relationship, their Yonkers background and their occasional differences spun out from a pointedly telling dream he had about the three of them in a taxi disagreeing about how much they should pay the driver. Wife Joan and her winning battle with cancer is the inspiration and subject of two affectionately tender piano ballads, "St Joan", about how everyone needs someone to keeps them grounded and tell them when they're being stupid, and the across the years love song "As Time Goes By".
The album's anchor also draws on personal experience. Preceded by a spoken reminiscence about how, touring Sweden in 2015, he came across a refugee camp in Skebo and watched some of the children fishing, an incident that gave rise to the slow piano waltzing "Refugee Children", Grayson Walters on upright bass and Taylor's granddaughters, Riley, Kate and Samantha on backing vocals, pausing from recounting the experience to quote the Human Rights Convention concerning the status of refugees. The song ends on an expression of hope, something that carries over into "Book Of Hope", a simple prayer for humanity that draws on the Act of Contrition in the choice to of good rather than wrong.
Coming from a completely different direction, backed by Grini on organ, the shuffling rhythm "Bobby I Screwed Up" is a belated apology that has him recalling a fraught recording session in the 80s when he was producing with the late Bobby Scott (writer of "A Taste of Honey" and He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother") which, perhaps fittingly, is immediately followed by "Enlighten Yourself", a playful spoken satire on self-help gurus (with a car horn bleeping out the expletives) that only finally gets round to the sung gospel-like mantra in the final seconds, though it is reprised (minus bleeps) as the album's brief closing track. A tad indulgent and not one for the mainstream perhaps, and there's certainly nothing you can sing along with or having playing on the car CD on the motorway drives, but nevertheless an illuminating insight in the life, soul and humanity of Chip Taylor.
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