Jesse Dayton & Brennen Leigh,
"Holdin' Our Own" & Other Country Gold Duets
(Stag, 2007)

Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez,
Live from the Ruhr Triennale
(Train Wreck, 2007)

Live from the Ruhr Triennale (a German music festival) is the fifth duo album by songwriter/guitarist Chip Taylor and fiddler Carrie Rodriguez. Both have cut solo projects but seem never very far apart, professionally speaking. For example, Rodriguez's Seven Angels on a Bicycle, which I reviewed in this space on 2 September 2006, consists, with but one exception, of Taylor compositions, and Taylor co-produced.

Taken from concerts in October 2005, Live revisits previously recorded songs (e.g., "Must Be the Whiskey," "Let's Leave This Town," "Laredo") and throws in a few covers of familiar, mostly country songs. They even manage to make something of the exhaustingly over-recorded "Long Black Veil," though their cover of "Big River" adds little to the classic Johnny Cash original.

A literate and appealing composer, the prolific Taylor writes in a style that splits the difference between Kris Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt. On the other hand, he's more consistently on target than either. Singing in a weathered folksinger's sort of voice, he handles the bulk of the lead vocals here, even though Rodriguez is a singer of spectacular gift, surely the equal of any female vocalist on the current roots scene. They're backed by a sensitive supporting band boasting such notables as guitarists Bill Frisell and Buddy Miller as well as the ace steel-guitarist/mandolinist Greg Leisz. Rodriguez demonstrates her impressive fiddling skills on the traditional "Elzick's Farewell."

The set ends with two early, pure-pop Taylor confections, making the point that even if you don't think you've heard his work ... well, you have. "Wild Thing" (The Troggs, 1966) is a practically genre-defining garage-band anthem, and "Angel of the Morning" (a hit for Merrillee Rush in 1968, Juice Newton in 1981) lays arguable claim to the title of Sappiest Song Ever Written About a One-Night Stand. Infuriatingly, it's set to a melody that you just can't get out of your head. Let us be grateful that eventually Taylor found a way to set memorable tunes to lyrics deserving of them.

Jesse Dayton and Brennen Leigh's "Holdin' Our Own" & Other Country Gold Duets is sheer, ridiculous fun. That doesn't mean the musical quality isn't high. It is high indeed. It recalls an age when country was not only country -- which is to say a Southern/Southwestern-accented, blue-collar tavern music -- but enchanted with musical banter between husbands and wives or lovers (usually feuding). Sometimes the songs were comic, sometimes bitter, sometimes sentimental, sometimes lachrymose. Often enough, however, they were unforgettable.

On first hearing, I recognized "Take Me" (George Jones and Tammy Wynette), "Long Legged Guitar Pickin' Man" (Johnny Cash and June Carter), "Back Street Affair" (a 1952 hit for Webb Pierce and one of country's first adultery-themed songs) and "Brand New Heartache" (Everly Brothers and Emmylou Harris). I assumed the rest were old album cuts or minor hits that I'd missed somehow, but I was wrong. Looking at the composer credits, I learn that Dayton wrote them himself. If they're pitch-perfect period pieces, no museum dust lies atop anything in these grooves.

Though not an old man by any stretch, the Austin-based Dayton has already had a noteworthy career. Lead guitarist for the late Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Johnny Bush and Willie Nelson -- Texas honkytonk royalty all -- constitutes only a portion of a fat resume. The full-voiced Brennen Leigh, a 23-year-old country/bluegrass artist and fellow Austinite who sings strikingly beyond her years, is a thrilling presence. There's true love in these songs, but mostly it's fussin' and cheatin' and heartbreakin' that -- at least where real country music is concerned -- is as it should and must be.

There's also the delirious, old-fashioned word play once nearly synonymous with country lyrics. You don't hear the likes of "(We're in the) Two Step Program" much anymore. Not here, alas, are a couple of other Dayton songs in that vein: "I Don't Give a Truck" and "I'm Home Gettin' Hammered (While She's Out Getting Nailed)."

review by
Jerome Clark

1 December 2007

Get Holdin' Our Own.

Get Live from the Ruhr Triennale.

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