Review: Chip Taylor & The Grandkids – Golden Kids Rules (Smithsonian Folkways, 2011)
Chip Taylor’s most widely known for his iconic rock, pop and country compositions, including “I Can’t Let Go,” “Wild Thing,” “Angel of the Morning,” “Country Girl City Man” and “Sweet Dream Woman.” His parallel recording career, including solo albums and a few charting singles in the mid-70s, never gained the renown of his writing, and spent most of the 1980s as a successful professional gambler. He crept back on to the music scene with a few albums in the ‘90s, and in 2002 he kicked off a series of collaborations with Carrie Rodriguez, which in turn led to the past decade’s recording renaissance. His latest, recorded with three granddaughters (Riley, Kate and Samantha), is the product of his long-term practice of writing songs for family events. On the occasion of his son’s marriage, Taylor wrote a trio of songs to sing with his grandkids, and the family’s response prompted this full album.
Taylor’s grizzled voice blends happily with the chirpy pre-teen tones of his granddaughters, and the songs he’s written (with co-writing from Kate on “Magical Horse”) fit their young years. The girls sing sweetly, shining on the humorous stories and confident on the more serious lyrics. The former will catch your kids’ ears for sing-along on first pass, but it’s the weightier lyrics that introduce the deeper pleasures of songs. Taylor’s songs allow his grandkids to be kids, suggesting they “learn stuff about stuff you don’t know,” take time to wander into their imaginations, and ask questions. There are messages for adults as well, reminding parents that kids have ideas and dreams that need to be heard, and that they can be empowered to care for others and for the planet.
The three songs originally recorded for Taylor’s son’s wedding close the collection, including the terrific second-line inflected soul of “The Possum Hunter,” a father’s clever and warm advisory “Happy Wedding,” and the hopeful “Now That Kristian and Anna Have Wed.” The album is charming and, particularly given Taylor’s depth as a songwriter, the quality of his assembled band, and the freshness of his granddaughters’ singing, a welcome respite from the bulk of purpose-built children’s music. The collection’s release on Smithsonian Folkways puts it in remarkable company, alongside classic albums from Pete Seeger, Ella Jenkins, Alan Mills and many others. Take a break from Barney and the Wiggles, and let Chip Taylor and his granddaughters entertain you.