This week on Music City Roots, we present an encore performance from May 29th due to a break in the MCR schedule. This show features sets from Chip Taylor, Great American Taxi, Patterson Barrett, Elise Testone, and Aoife O’Donovan. Jim Lauderdale hosts.
About the artists:
If you’ve ever wondered how Chip Taylor, the songwriter whose hits include “Wild Thing” and “Angel of the Morning” and whose songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Peggy Lee, Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, and the Hollies wound up pursuing a career as a country performer, don’t worry. With the release of his latest album, Yonkers NY, he takes you back to the start of his life and explains it in a collection of songs with the patented Chip Taylor charm and grace.
Yonkers NY is a depiction of a fairly normal childhood spent in the suburbs of New York City with loving parents and two older brothers who only tormented young Chip in the ways older brothers always do. The family was subtly different from its grey-flannel-suit-wearing suburban neighbors in that the elder Taylor was a golf pro, not a businessman commuter (although he managed to convince his youngest son for years that he was also an FBI agent), as well as a high-stakes gambler on occasion.
Chip’s parents weren’t your normal uptight suburban family. “My dad and mom would let me stay up late to listen to the radio because it was important to me. It was okay to break the rules, as long as we broke them when we were following our passions; they were okay with that. They listened to what we were interested in. Barry was into rocks and the mountains right away, and I was listening to music and telling my brothers about that and Jon was doing dialects and little performances. It was already ingrained in us; we were old hands when it came time to do what we were going to do.”
Chip tells the story of his discovering his passions in eleven brilliantly crafted songs on Yonkers NY, introducing the family in the album’s first song, “Barry, Go On,” with the subject being the three Voight kids, Barry (now a renowned vulcanologist), Jonny (actor Jon Voight) and Jamie (James Voight, Taylor’s birth-name). “Charcoal Sky” introduces us to trains, then as now an essential way of getting around in suburban New York, while “Gin Rummy Rules” introduces young Jamie to mathematics as he sits with his father at the game he attends in nearby Mount Vernon three nights a week.
“Hey Jonny” turns the story in a new direction as Jamie and his older brother discover rock and roll as Bill Haley rocks the silver screen: “Hey Jonny, did you feel that movie?” Chip certainly did, and it changed his life, setting him on the path he’s still following. For much of the 1960s, he and the band he put together with his friend Greg Gwardyak in Yonkers played and recorded country music until a chance recording of one of Chip’s songs by Willie Nelson made him realize that he didn’t have to beat himself up on the road, but could make good money writing songs for other people. “Without Horses” tells the tale of another passion: gambling on horse races, something he’s always been very good at. All through the 1960s he’d place bets with his bookie (who at one point was Meyer Lansky) and then go to work writing songs, picking up his winnings at the end of the day.
“No Dice” would seem to continue the gambling theme, but it’s actually about teen romance, which was also part of a young man’s life, while “Bastard Brothers” is an affectionate swipe at his siblings who got tired of hearing Jamie saw away at a violin and begged their parents to get him another instrument for Christmas. He got a ukulele, which immediately stole his heart and led to his acquiring a guitar not much later. His life could have been much different if it weren’t for his bastard brothers! “Piece of the Sky” is the only non-autobiographical song here, a fantasy of having a band with Janis Joplin and selling six million records. Or maybe it is autobiographical, since what musician doesn’t have similar fantasies?
“Saw Mill River Road,” though, is all true details: Taylor’s first professional band, with Gwardyak, came together in Yonkers and was called the Town and Country Brothers. The competition was the Hudson Valley Boys, who had a long-standing Friday night gig at a place called the Chat & Chew in Ardsley, New York, and would call Chip to the stage every time he went to see them so he could sing a couple of numbers. “Yonkers Girls” is a tribute to the fans the band had, and generally to the girls from the towns in the area, delivered with good humor and a lot of affection.
And, finally, there’s “Yonkers, NY,” ending the song-cycle with a look back at what became of the people and places of Taylor’s childhood, all mixed together the way fifty-year-old memories get, and wrapping up the story of an American childhood and adolescence.
Taylor got out of Yonkers when Greg Gwardyak got the Town and Country Brothers a record deal. “I was signed to King Records at 15 because Greg was so passionate about these demos that we’d made that he walked the street in New York until he got us a deal. It was about passion. I could say I wanted to be in the music business, but it was because Greg was walking the streets that I actually got into it.”
Eventually, Taylor gave up performing for songwriting, than took up performing again in the 1970s, when he recorded three highly-regarded albums for Warner Bros. When they failed to sell enough to impress the company (although they created a cult following both in the United States and Europe which has only grown over the years), Taylor retired to gamble full-time. In 1993, he felt the old itch and un-retired, and in 2001 he met fiddler Carrie Rodriguez at the South by Southwest event in Austin, Texas, initiating a creative partnership that would catapult both to the upper ranks of Americana music and see them perform all over the world. The two parted ways in 2006 so that Rodriguez could concentrate on her solo career, but Taylor has continued, releasing Songs from a Dutch Tour in 2008, and, now, Yonkers NY.
All in all, the songs on Yonkers NY bear out what Chip Taylor has to say about songwriting generally. “I like to feel things. My whole life has been governed by chills, to be able to experience something in silence without a lot of talk around you. To hear the radio late at night. These days I sit here in the morning, with a couple of guitars, a Martin 0018 and a D-25 Gibson a few feet away and I can just sit here and not listen to anything except the breeze blowing outside. I’ve got my minidisc player so that if a chill comes over me I can record it immediately. I couldn’t love my life any more. The thing is to create every day. I just wait for the chill and leave the crafting ‘til the end. The magic has to be there and often times it comes without syllables, just sounds of things and chords and melody. And you let that flow out of you.”
That’s what he’s done on Yonkers NY, with his superb band, consisting of John Platania, electric guitar; Greg Leisz, steel guitar, dobro, and mandolin; Tony Mercadante, electric bass; Seth Farber, piano and accordion; Kendel Carson, fiddle; and Tony Leone, drums.
Yonkers NY is being released by Train Wreck Records on September 29th in a deluxe package with a 35-page book designed by Andy Taray. The book is filled with photographs of the Voight family and, of course, Yonkers itself, and also contains lyrics to all the songs, as well as Taylor’s commentary on them. The album will contain two discs, one of which will have the full cycle, including Taylor’s spoken material, in which he tells stories and shares memories of this period of his life, the second of which will contain edited versions, with just the songs. The chills are added at no extra cost.
Great American Taxi is Vince Herman (vocals, guitar, mandolin), Chad Staehly (keys, vocals), Jim Lewin (guitar, vocals), Chris Sheldon (drums, vocals) and Brian Adams (bass, vocals). On their latest release, Paradise Lost (produced by Todd Snider), the band enlisted master folk musicians Tim O’Brien, Barry Sless, and Elizabeth Cook to tackle songs about working class, blue-collar issues while maintaining Taxi’s signature upbeat, country-, bluegrass-, rock-infused, Americana-without-borders feel.
“I believe in the power of music and songs that can generate the energy to do something,” explains Herman. “Politics should be in music; everything’s politics, especially music. Songwriting can draw attention to appropriate issues of our times.” The band holds no bars in confronting current issues like mountaintop removal, nuclear energy, poor economic conditions, or a soldier returning home from war.
“Taxi’s latest release has shed the jamming and gone for the throat with focused song writing and tight musical arrangements,” adds Staehly. “The album combines ‘folky’ elements with straight ahead bluegrass that was propelled by Tim O’Brien playing fiddle, banjo and mandolin on several numbers mixed with equal parts rock ‘n’ roll — think early-’70s country-rock Rolling Stones.”
The band crafted a batch of 12 songs that follow a script of sorts, focusing on America in the new millennium. The theme started to develop in 2010 when they spent time in Nashville. Later that year, while on tour with Snider in Denver, lightning struck: Snider and the band decided to work together to create Taxi’s third album, which was to explore what “paradise lost” meant to all of them, individually and collectively. Paradise Lost takes on issues such as loss of childhood, loss of innocence, lost loved ones — even the loss of the record industry.
The lead track, “Poor House,” came to them in a peculiar way while the band was playing in Oklahoma City. They received a call from their songwriting friend Benny Galloway (local Boulder songwrtier extraordinnaire), who had no idea that GAT was in Oklahoma City at the time. By coincidence, he called to say he was driving through Woody Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah, OK, knowing that the Taxi boys were big Guthrie fans. Galloway showed up about an hour before the show and ran “Poor House” by them as a potential song they could play together that night. Galloway obliged the band’s desire to include the track and dropped off a demo version weeks later while all were back home in Colorado.
When work began on Paradise Lost, Snider wanted the lyrics first before anything else. All five band-members contributed. Snider helped them edit and whittle down the catalog of songs to about fifteen tunes before they shored up the music and headed for East Nashville in April of 2011. There they arrived at Eric McConnell’s house (where Snider cut his acclaimed release East Nashville Skyline and where Jack White produced Loretta Lynn’s Grammy-award winning release Van Lear Rose).
Staehly recalls, “The house definitely has a certain vibe to it, maybe it’s all the old analog gear or McConnell’s approach, but this new album from Taxi hearkens to the sounds of both of those albums. It’s a bit raw with all kinds of warmth and vibe to it that helps bring home these workingman songs. Paradise Lost has an everyman’s aesthetic to it that evokes a reminder of how things ought to be for those in search of the elusive American Dream.”
Taxi has been performing many dates over the past couple of years as backup band for Snider so it’s no surprise to see his name crop up on the production credits. He makes an appearance on lead vocals, harp and some back-up vocals.
Great American Taxi remains inspired by roots rockers like The Band, The Jayhawks, Gram Parsons, and New Riders of the Purple Sage, wearing these influences on their collective sleeve but carving out new territory along the way both lyrically and musically.
Great American Taxi’s sophomore effort, Reckless Habits, garnered critical attention on the Americana music scene, topped at #12 on the Americana Music Association’s radio chart; it remained in the top 25 for more than two months. Habits sat atop the Colorado radio chart for more than two months and remained in the top 25 for more than a year. The album found the band moving “confidently between touching base on their first-generation influences and building songs with unmistakably individual presence,” noted the Boulder Weekly.
Taxi has spent the last seven years touring America non-stop, and their astute observations on the American condition resound with a truth and values ethos that all can relate to. After all, these guys have seen a lot, having played more than 750 shows in their short history together and traveling close to 500,000 miles in that time, spreading a brand of music that they affectionately refer to as “Americana without borders.”
The 12 tracks on Paradise Lost include a couple of reflective ballads, a sing-along or two, and some rockers that will make you want to get up and shake your money-maker. Great American Taxi, along with their friend and producer Todd Snider, deliver a collection of what Staehly calls “electric folk music for our times.” Paradise Lost is an ode to the American Dream, often times forsaken but always there to be rediscovered.”
“It’s hard to imagine someone not liking Great American Taxi. In their bone structure and general jiggle, GAT is a modern equivalent to Little Feat, Los Lobos and the Grateful Dead – i.e. bonhomie rich, barroom ready rockers with a healthy facility with twangy stuff, all anchored to quality songwriting, playing and presentation. The Taxi is the whole dang package for someone looking to lift their heels whilst wetting their whistle and getting their head and heart fed, too. In short, Great American Taxi is a speakeasy where all are welcome…”–Dennis Cook (editor), Jambands.com.
The past year has been both entertaining and productive for Austin-based Americana artist Patterson Barrett.
Last August you could find him playing at the largest Rodeo and Music Festival in Europe—Equiblues—where he sang and played pedal steel guitar and keyboards with four different acts during the five-day event, including a show with musical chameleon Jim Lauderdale. A little later that same month he was in the home studio of his longtime friend and former bandmate Buddy Miller, laying down keyboard tracks for the splendid Buddy and Jim CD. In September he was performing with Lauderdale again, this time along with the North Mississippi All Stars at the Americana Music Association festival in Nashville.
Then in October, Barrett released his sophomore solo record, When I Was Your Age… (So’ Fish Records) The songs on the new CD examine the coming-of-age experience from a variety of viewpoints. “Watching and participating in my son’s entry into young adulthood inspired this collection of songs. Seeing what he was going through sparked my own memories of what I felt ‘When I Was (his) Age…’ and these songs are the result.” The music on the disc is solidly Americana, with elements of folk, rock and country evident. Notable guest contributions include legendary vocalist Bonnie Bramlett and Gurf Morlix , whose new CD, Gurf Morlix Finds The Present Tense, includes Patterson on organ.
Now Patterson is out and about, spreading the words of his songs to anyone who’ll listen.
Patterson Barrett moved to Austin shortly after appearing on Jerry Jeff Walker’s eponymous first release on MCA records, playing pedal steel, dobro, and guitar (including the song “L.A. Freeway”). Not long after arriving in Austin, he formed the band Partners In Crime, which included Buddy and Julie Miller, releasing one album on their own label, Criminal Records.
In the years since, Patterson produced some of Hal Ketchum’s earliest demos, served in Al Kooper’s back-up band, and performed before 10,000 festival-goers as Chuck Berry’s pianist. He accompanied Nancy Griffith on Austin City Limits, legendary Austin singer Lou Ann Barton in music clubs around the country, and has appeared on several Buddy Miller recording projects, including the recent Buddy and Jim release on New West Records.
When I Was Your Age… (So’ Fish Records) was released in late 2012. Barrett once again does most of the instrumental duties, wielding an army of musical hardware, from the staples (guitars, keyboards, bass) to the slightly more exotic (pedal steel, accordion, and balalaika) Guest contributors include Bonnie Bramlett , who lends her unmistakable vocals to the rocking abandon of lead-off track “Come Back To Me,” joined by the equally iconic Gurf Morlix to sing on the gospel-meets-gravel-road chorus of “Nobody’s Fault But Your Own.” Morlix also adds licks and a solo to “In Your Own Voice,” leaving his unique imprint on the song. And the inspiration himself, Barrett’s son Emerson Wells-Barrett, played drums on the cautionary (but completely fictional) tale “The Wrong Way.”
Patterson cites Neil Young and country-rock pioneers Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers as his early influences, as well as soul stalwarts such as Sam and Dave, The Temptations, and Marvin Gaye. The music on I Must Be Dreaming has been compared to John Hiatt, The Band (whose song “Sleeping” he lovingly covers), and Josh Ritter.
The last 12 months have been an amazing journey for Elise Testone.
She has appeared on national TV and done interviews with Ellen DeGeneres, Jay Leno, and Anderson Cooper not to mention being a finalist on American Idol’s 11th Season. She received heartfelt accolades from Stevie Nicks and Steven Tyler on her abilities and talent…..she even got to shake hands with President Bill Clinton in the whirlwind that has been her life recently.
2013 has found Elise back in her adopted home of Charleston, SC starting the year with an incredible sold-out homecoming show at the Charleston Music Hall on Valentine’s Night. She has recently played opening slots with B.B. King as well as joining Hootie and Blowfish at their annual “Monday After the Masters” fundraiser at the House in Blues in Myrtle Beach, SC. She has been hard at work in the studio working on her debut release due out in the fall.
But with all the hype and buzz surrounding her career right now, in many ways Elise Testone is simply staying on the path that she has been pursuing with discipline and persistence since she was a child. She continues to be focused on creating beautiful music and is surrounding herself with an excellent band that she deftly leads through soulful and intricate compositions that are resonating with bigger and bigger audiences as she enters this exciting next chapter of her life.
In 2006, when USA Today predicted that Aoife O’Donovan would soon become “the newest darling of the Americana set,” it had already been true for quite some time. Called “a vocalist of unerring instinct” by the New York Times, Aoife is one of the most sought after singers in the roots music field. Her work as the lead singer and co-founder of stringband Crooked Still put her on the map in 2001, and she has collaborated with a variety of musicians across genres since. Aoife’s crystalline voice can be heard on the Grammy nominated album The Goat Rodeo Sessions, alongside icons such as Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan, and Chris Thile. She’s also appeared as a guest vocalist with folks such as Ollabelle, Dave Douglas, Solas, Noam Pikelny, Joshua Radin, and Kate Rusby, among others. Fans of Alison Krauss may be familiar with Aoife’s unique songwriting–Krauss recorded Aoife’s song “Lay My Burden Down” on her 2011 album Paper Airplane. Aoife recently signed to Yep-Roc Records and will release her debut solo album, produced by Tucker Martine, in June 2013.
“A singer of modest rusticity, but as sophisticated as they come” ~The New York Times
“A splendid, folksy singer whose voice soars” ~TimeOut New York
“O’Donovan. Aoife O’Donovan. Remember that name, because with a sultry voice that makes her sound like a blusier Alison Krauss, she’s about to become the newest darling of the Americana set.” ~USA Today
“…her naturalistic phrasing and effortless control belie the complex structural ideas swirling around her. In an alluring, soft-spoken husk, she sings with complete emotional credibility, whether navigating dense, jazzy slides or haunted old-timey trills.” ~The Boston Globe