Sometimes it seems as though Willie Nelson invented the unlikely duet. Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez may have perfected the concept. Sure, a former professional gambler from New York and author of Wild Thing paired with a Texas-born and Berklee-trained fiddler and vocalist 38 years his junior - who didn't know that would work?
An audition of their five previous albums together is nothing so much as a debunking of demographics. The pairing does work, and its disparate virtues are all on display in this retrospective fortified with four new songs. Taylor's pungent, distinctive lyrics and melodies - check. Rodriguez's aching fiddle and equally expressive and wide-ranging voice - check. Humor and passion - check and check. The only thing missing is 2003's Dirty Little Texas Story, probably the best weepy, plinky country song of the millennium. Oh well, can't have everything. They did include Laredo, maybe the catchiest, with the hardest-driving beat. It features Rodriguez's fiddle ranging all over the place and Taylor, as more master of ceremony than lead vocalist, having a grand old time. Then there's the equally lively All the Rain, plus Don't Speak in English, a title for which almost anyone could have written a good song.
But Taylor's not just any song writer. The contributions of both partners are not only deeply complementary, but well balanced. Still, it's his writing that is, perhaps, the most noteworthy element here. It defies categorization and hardly sounds like the work of a man in his seventh decade. The gambling foray followed early successes such as Wild Thing (which feels a tad obligatory here, but well executed). Talk about a second wind. His work with Rodriguez is gale force.
The new material is conspicuously and consistently somber in comparison to what preceded it, although Your Name Is on my Lips is a sweet valentine. One can certainly understand why this duo's parting kiss would be fraught with melancholy.