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Chip Taylor, Carrie Rodriguez discover the trouble with humans

By Rick Bell, November 2003

Country music contains plenty of memorable male-female duet partners: Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette and George Jones, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, and to an extent these days, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.

One of the latest entries into the male-female duo partnership has something different going for them. In fact, Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez could be among the most unique pairings ever.

Taylor is a Yonkers, N.Y.-born-and-raised songwriter who penned such classics as "Angel of the Morning" and the rock anthem "Wild Thing." The brother of actor Jon Voigt, his songs have been covered by a vast array of performers, from Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix to Frank Sinatra to the rock band The Pretenders.

He's also a recovering gambler - apparently a good one at that - who left music behind in the mid-1980s for his newfound passion. Yet Taylor, 63, ultimately threw in his cards in 1995, renewing his music career to considerable critical acclaim in the U.S. and Europe.

Rodriguez, on the other hand, is 25 and hails from Austin, having grown up there playing violin. The daughter of local singer-songwriter David Rodriguez, she ultimately graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston magna cum laude. When she returned to Austin, she soon discovered her sheepskin didn't necessarily translate into a well-paying, high-flying career in music. Like many a young Austin artist, Rodriguez was picking up live gigs and working in the studio whenever she could just to make ends meet.

Rodriguez' fortunes - and that of Taylor's, to an extent - were soon to change.

Almost 40 years apart, Taylor and Rodriguez came together in late 2001 to form what has to be the most intriguing generational duo since the '80s singing duo the Kendalls - the late Royce and daughter Jeannie.

Since a chance meeting at the SXSW conference in Austin in 2001, the pair first barnstormed through Europe, then released the sleeper Americana hit of 2002, "Let's Leave This Town."

The title cut came out of nowhere to climb to number two on the Americana radio chart and garnered tremendous critical acclaim, including the "New Voices No Cover" feature on the CMT web site, which offers roots-oriented performers accessibility to a wider audience.

Taylor and Rodriguez re-emerged from the studio this summer, following up on the success of "Let's Leave This Town" with "The Trouble With Humans." (Lone Star Records) Shortly after its late September release, it was the number one most-added album to the Americana chart, topping the likes of Robert Earl Keen and The Mavericks.

"I think the thread that runs through both albums is Carrie and I," says Taylor by phone from his home in Manhattan. Rodriguez, who recently moved from Austin to the Big Apple, had dropped by earlier and joined him on the other line for the talk.

"This is more of a total partnership between us," Taylor adds. "Our duet is like listening to the second Everly Brothers album. I think the harmonies are that strong. I'm really enjoying our duets, and we're having fun with the process of learning from each other."

The thought of stepping up to the microphone initially made Rodriguez a little uneasy, she says.

"I'd done sessions before. In school, it was a requirement," Rodriguez says in a soft, somewhat hesitant voice. That's just getting used to voicing opinions. "I was used to being a side person. I played on Patti Griffin's album. Now, it's not just me putting down my fiddle. I got to try the singing thing."

"I was uneasy about the singing part. I know how I feel when I open my mouth, and I thought, 'God, this girl's not a singer.'"

Rodriguez took more of an equity role in the latest album, trying her hand at songwriting. Because of his encouragement, there are three Taylor-Rodriguez compositions on "The Trouble With Humans."

The songwriting didn't come much easier either, she says. Taylor encouraged her to try her hand at writing, but it was more of a gentle nudge.

"Chip asked me to come up with what I could," Rodriguez says. "He gave me a deadline. But to show a guy like Chip my little melody..." her voice trailed off.

"He gave me a little push, and I came up with some chords."

Out of it came the three tunes - "Memphis, Texas," a dusty, wistful look at a real place, she notes, a tiny speck on the map near Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle with a town square paved in red brick where her grandmother was born. Rodriguez handles lead on the song, and Taylor chimes in as her fiddle gently mingles with John McGann's mandolin runs.

' Rodriguez also gets credit on "All the Rain," a no-nonsense foot-stomper about stubborn love where her full-on Texas drawl jumps and yips all around Taylor's straight-ahead vocals.

Yet it's her final contribution, "Confessions," that reveals Rodriguez' budding potential as a songwriter. A daughter confides in her mother about her secret lover who, she claims, as the music intensifies, will be "the death of me."

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