Friday, March 16, 2018

Chip Taylor: “Fix Your Words” (2018) CD Review

Though perhaps still best known for writing songs that became hits for other artists, Chip Taylor has been releasing his own material for decades, and just put out a new album. Titled Fix Your Words, it features all original material. Inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame two years ago, Chip Taylor has written songs like “Wild Thing,” “Son Of A Rotten Gambler,” “I Can Make It With You,” “Any Way That You Want Me” and “Angel Of The Morning.” And he continues to write excellent material, as Fix Your Words clearly demonstrates. The first time I put on this album, it was late at night, and I had planned on listening to only a few tracks, just to get a sense of the style and the music, with the intention of listening to the rest in the morning, but I was pulled in, and stayed up late listening to the whole thing. It is a tremendous album.

Fix Your Words opens with the title track, and how fitting a song for the man known for his songwriting – a song that is partially about words and communication. “It’s the tone you choose/When you speak your dream/It’s the way you say what you mean/Words are hammers.” Wow, the way he delivers the line “And a gentle word, forgiveness” is so moving and eloquent. This is a song of experience, of pain, of compassion, of some wisdom, delivered at times with a sense of urgency. It is one of my personal favorites. It is followed by “Whatever Devil Is In Me.” There is something intimate about his delivery here, like he’s leaning in to whisper directly in your ear. “Whatever kindness in me, draw your sword/Whatever goodness has been held back, speak your word/I’ve heard you, but not enough times/Until this time/And it’s about time you were heard.” The way he delivers these lines, and this entire song, is captivating, almost heartbreaking.

There is something sweet and delicate, yet also just a bit playful about “A Little Bit Of Underground,” as when he sings, “The most soulful music I have ever found is a little bit of underground.”  And I love the backing vocals, which are gorgeous, yet soft and gentle (reminding a bit of the way Leonard Cohen often used his backing vocalists). “I want to let that music play.” Amen. There is a strange false ending to this one, which I have mixed feelings about. I do love the harmonica part after this false ending. “A Little Bit Of Underground” is followed by “The Ground Moving Around Me,” one of the most striking tracks on this disc. The way he sings “We are definitely in this together” at the beginning grabbed me. That line, and the way he delivers it caught me by surprise, and I found myself smiling. Damn, this is sweet, and it’s a good, positive, important message for us to hear these days. “And we will change it (change it)/Fix it (fix it)/Heal it/Heal it.” I want to call him right now and thank him for this song. I admit, I needed it. My lesser qualities have often come to the surface lately in reaction to news from the nation’s capital, and in reaction to followers of the man pretending to be president, and I need to not let myself succumb to the worst of me in acknowledging and battling the worst of them. This song is a gentle and loving reminder of who we all can be, what we can do, and what is important. “This weakness, we don’t need it anymore.” By the way, in this song Chip Taylor alludes to an earlier song, “Fuck All The Perfect People” (a wonderful song that opens with a reference to Hamlet), in the line “And now I am thinking about all the perfect people out there.” And then in “Love Knows The Cloud,” he sings, “So don’t give up/We will do just fine.”

In “When I Was A Kid,” Chip Taylor tells us a story of his childhood, and about liking Hank Williams as Luke the Drifter, most of it delivered as spoken word. “Not that Hank Williams wasn’t great/He was certainly great/But Luke the Drifter, he was sad/He said sad things, and that’s what I wanted to hear.” Sometimes those sad songs are what we need to hear to feel better. “And I believe that true happiness/Comes from allowing yourself to feel your sadness/Don’t go letting anybody tell you something different than that.” “When I Was A Kid” is followed by “When He Goes… He Goes,” a song of complete love and pain. It begins with these lines: “One heart in love, one heart in pain/She’s found another/And he still feels the same/And he always will/You know that kind of guy/When he goes…he goes.” Yes, it’s all or nothing. And is there anything better than loving someone completely? Interestingly, this song contains the lines “He’ll stay alone there in his mind/In that hiding place where only lovers find/In their crazy dreams,” connecting it to the next song, “Crazy Dreams Crazy,” another song of love and ache. I appreciate the touches on fiddle by Bonnie Sue Walters. The album then concludes with “You Just Think You Changed Your Mind,” yet another completely engaging song. At moments, this is heartbreaking, as when he sings “And only sometimes that dream is me/Oh, come on now/Don’t give me those tears,” and even when he takes an audible breath after “And you’ll be happy” before adding “maybe.” That moment nearly destroyed me. Ordinarily I don’t like to hear a singer’s breath (I can’t stand listening to Tori Amos, for example), but here that breath is effective, giving away more than perhaps words could. You have to hear it. This is an excellent song.

CD Track List
  1. Fix Your Words
  2. Whatever Devil Is In Me
  3. If I Am
  4. A Little Bit Of Underground
  5. The Ground Moving Around Me
  6. Love Knows The Clouds
  7. We Have Not To Say
  8. When I Was A Kid
  9. When He Goes… He Goes
  10. Crazy Dreams Crazy
  11. You Just Think You Changed Your Mind 
Fix Your Words was released on March 2, 2018 on Train Wreck Records.

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