December 2003

Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez - The Trouble with Humans
Texas Music Group/Lone Star Records TMG-LS 4011
Released: 2003

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

The second album by multitalented Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez, The Trouble with Humans -- coming hard upon an extremely well-received debut disc -- hits you with enjoyment from many directions. Two very different singing voices find interesting ways of mixing and playing off each other. They accomplish this not by finding a perfect blend or by timing their duets perfectly, but by putting their voices forward in all of their individuality, bouncing cleverly off of their accomplished band, and dedicating themselves to the lyrics without over-dramatizing or straining. The result: a highly musical conversation between two intelligent people having fun with their lines.

A confident Taylor -- decades Rodriguez’s senior, a veteran’s veteran of songwriting, performing, and recording -- shifts his voice to a talk, sometimes almost a whisper, as easily as he handles the varying degrees of complexity in the melodies. Rodriguez, a youthful award-winning classical violinist and concertmaster, and a magna cum laude graduate of the famed Berklee College of Music, added singing to her repertoire as an afterthought at Taylor’s prodding. Perhaps not quite a powerhouse, she puts a lot of charm into her vocals, stepping right up to the plate and hitting a triple -- much subtlety to her phrasing and no apologies for her strong Texas accent.

Rodriguez puts her fiddle to fine use in many of the disc’s best solos, and Taylor does solid work on the acoustic guitar and harmonica, including an engaging opening to the first song, "Don’t Speak in English." They deliberately brought together the same musicians whose talents lent brilliance to their first album, Let’s Leave This Town, seasoned pros who have worked with decades’ worth of top rock, folk, and country acts. Like many of the best players, they know how to let the vocals shine, building layers of appealing music without competing.

A predominant lyrical theme, perhaps paradoxically, is the uselessness of words for making or repairing romantic relationships and a desire to eliminate B.S. "Don’t Speak In English" is entirely about that topic:

Yes we can just talk it out
Tell me what it’s all about
But don’t speak in English
You can let it go -- get it right from your soul
But don’t say words I understand
I’ve had enough -- of that kind of stuff
For a long, long time.

The second track, "Memphis, Texas," picks up the theme:

If you’d like to get to know me -- find out who I am
Lay off that sweet talk -- let go of my hand
Take one step back & give me some space
Don’t say a word -- and I’ll take you someplace.

And it continues on "Curves and Things" ("Some words should hit the air like silence / I tell myself…just don’t go there…") and on the title song ("I don’t want to talk it -- I just want to feel it…").

Many other topics come up, though almost the entire album is about interpersonal communication and relationships as seen from several angles. But Taylor and Rodriguez do not take themselves too seriously -- they’re chatting and joking, not trying to upstage the last quarter-century’s self-help mavens. Much more than from its lyrics -- though they are pretty good and often witty -- the album gets its range from its artful movement from moderate tempo to languid to very fast, from less to more melodic, from solo voice to two-part harmony, from fiddle to cello to harmonica.

Shooting pretty much all of the arrows in the singers’ and the band’s quiver, this recording hits many bull’s-eyes and is rarely if ever off target. Lots of the tunes from The Trouble with Humans will get stuck in your head and you’ll enjoy the playful joy in making music that constantly comes through.