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Chip Taylor, Carrie Rodriguez discover the trouble with humans

By Rick Bell, November 2003

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Besides adding to the songwriting credits, Rodriguez also co-produced "Trouble With Humans." Taylor says the new album has more depth than the first.

"'Let's Leave this Town' was basically Carrie and I just meeting," he says. "This one is a little darker, maybe. It offers the emotions of the day, where people talk to each other. It's like our relationship. As we get to know each other better, our talks become more serious. It's more moody, in a way."

With duets, there naturally are comparisons. Some have said Billy Joe Shaver and Lucinda Williams, while others have put Rodriguez in the same class as Nanci Griffith.

"We have a sound together," Taylor says, quite simply. "Carrie has such a wonderful, unique sound. When we sing with each other, it doesn't remind me much of anyone else."

He paused a second, then adds, "Except for maybe Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. I get a chill - I get a physical chill when I hear Carrie sing. It doesn't surprise me so much. I think Carrie is a wonderful story. She is already considered by many to be a great folksinger."

High praise indeed for a college graduate who just two years ago was merely another struggling Austin musician struggling to get by.

"When I moved back to Austin, I was aimless," Rodriguez says. "I was trying to figure out how to make a living at playing the violin."

Richard Price, then Lucinda Williams' bassist and boyfriend, introduced her to Taylor. Taylor was already considering adding another musician to his band when he met Rodriguez.

"I was thinking about adding another instrument to the band, maybe mandolin or steel," he says. "I was hoping she'd be good. She had a nice vibe on stage. Right away I could feel how it would work."

Their first appearance together was at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas. They rehearsed for the first time the day of the show and then played several more dates together in Texas. Taylor was impressed with her stage presence as well as her musicianship. And, a European trip loomed for him.

"I normally play with a duo," he says. "My partner wasn't going to make part of the trip, so I asked her if she wanted to come on the Swedish part. Then I figured, why not do the whole thing together."

It all came as quite a shock to Rodriguez.

"It was an exciting time for me. The whole thing came as a surprise," she says. "It was so exciting to play great songs with a legendary songwriter like Chip. I was barely making it with the band I was with at the time."

The timing of it all was a factor as well.

"It was a strange time to go on a European tour," Taylor recalls. "It was right after 9/11; Carrie had a really bad cold, and I thought she would cancel on me. But her decision was to go no matter what. I had expected her to say no."

Rodriguez says she was intent on making the trip, bad cold, terrorists and all.

"I wasn't all that concerned," she says. "And really, it was a good time to get out of the country."

Taylor says the Europeans were especially grateful that he'd stuck to his commitment. And once they heard Rodriguez, they were knocked over.

"Everyone appreciated that Carrie made the trip," he says. "They knew it was a difficult decision. It was also a nice way to show our fans they were important to us."

Taylor remembers the first time they sang together on his song "Storybook Children," a Top 5 hit from the mid-1960s for Billy Vera and Judy Clay. The song is historic in the sense that it ultimately became the first chart-topping song for an interracial couple. Yet, the song's latest chapter is acting as a catalyst for Rodriguez' emergence as a singer. Taylor decided to try the duet in his live shows to introduce her.

"It was the first show we did in Holland," Taylor says. "My show is divided into two parts. Carrie didn't sing in the first half, but everyone watched her play fiddle and loved her. I could see a lot of eyes on her."

When she stepped to the microphone for the duet, the place erupted, he recalls.

"The place went nuts when she sang," he says. "We couldn't get to the chorus. We had to start again."

"The reaction of the audience was so strong to the way she sang. They loved her voice."

Rodriguez was a bit more dramatic with her recollection.

"It was terrifying in the beginning," she says. "The first time doing the duet, he says, 'Okay, we'll do the duet in the second set. I'd be nervous up until we did it. I'd be shaking through the whole thing. Every single day, it was hell. My nerves were shot. Then we did two songs."

"It's slowly getting easier after a couple years now," she says.

Taylor says to not let her modesty fool anyone - Rodriguez is handling the responsibilities quite well.

"We're touring a lot now," he says. "I have a couple hits I'll sing, but it's less and less as more and more I'll sing with Carrie."

In a short time, they've developed a solid fan base both here and abroad. They discovered a large pocket of fans in New England, where a Triple-A radio station had recognized their first album as the number two record of the year. And, of course, they have a solid following in Rodriguez' hometown.

"We have a solid fan base in Austin," she says. "It's a beautiful feeling that it's happened all over Texas. We've gotten good support on radio, and that's a big help for us."

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