If Chip Taylor had done nothing more than simply pen two of the biggest songs of his generation - "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning" - his place in musical history would be well assured. So, it's to his credit that he's managed to reinvent himself several times over the course of his career, both as a gambler and as a man whose later career has found him traipsing through the darker tributaries of Americana as a singer and songwriter.
Still, "The Little Prayers Trilogy" marks yet another departure, in terms of both its sweep and scope. Spread over the course of three CDs, Taylor offers a heartfelt homage to the American experience, conveyed from a deeply personal point of view. Indeed, it's an intimate encounter, so intimate in fact that the observer often needs to lean in to listen, thanks to Taylor's weathered, wounded vocals and an instrumental accompaniment that's so hushed and reserved, it's often barely audible.
Regardless, it's that sense of solitude that makes these songs so personal and affecting. When Taylor refers to his immigrant origins -- real or imagined -- on "Czechoslovakian Heaven," the stories of tens of thousands hopeful new arrivals reverberate through its sparse narrative designs. Likewise, the sad saga of "Nine Soldiers in Baltimore" and the turgid tale of the racial divide, "Used To Be a White Boy" illustrate the injustice and indifference intertwined in the pages of America's recent history.
Despite the mournful tone, "The Little Prayers Trilogy" is as lovely as it is lean, echoing the stark imagery of, say, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Lou Reed, as reflected through their daunting sobriety. Admittedly, it doesn't make for an immediate connection, reflecting the fact that the material was borne out of Taylor's initial demos and arrangements that were kept to a minimum. Similar in both sound and substance to another understated epic of note, Mickey Newbury's "American Trilogy," this particular opus ought to achieve similar standing.