Carrie Rodriguez / Chip Taylor

The New Bye & Bye

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When grizzled veteran roots songwriter Chip Taylor invited young, comely singer/fiddler Carrie Rodriguez to share the spotlight with him on the first of four collaborations in 2002, few would have predicted how successful that May-December musical pairing would be. After three studio discs and one live one, Rodriguez took flight on her own impressive solo career, making the timing right for a retrospective of the duo's somewhat under-the-radar work together. This generous and expertly selected recap cherrypicks a handful of tracks from all four of their albums and adds a quartet of new ones equally as vibrant. It's immediately evident that this rather unlikely collaboration works to both artists' benefit. Rodriguez shines as a young, obviously talented singer and fiddler, bringing vibrancy to Taylor's often gruff, dusky approach. Taylor is clearly invigorated having Rodriguez to bounce off of, dueting with her and writing a clutch of sweet and sour country/folk tunes such as the newly penned "Your Name Is On My Lips" that capitalize on their individual strengths. The acoustic arrangements and stripped-down groove allow the songs to breathe and Taylor's intricately crafted lyrics to sink in, while leaving space for Rodriguez to bring her expert fiddle skills into the mix. The music is straight out of the Texas school that combines folk with C&W and a bluesy sensibility that anyone with a passing knowledge of Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, or Townes Van Zandt will recognize. Religion, liquor, and love are themes that appear with frequency, but the concepts are never clich├ęd or shopworn, and having Rodriguez's sweet voice on both harmony and lead keeps the sound fresh and more sprightly than the tunes would have been without her. She brings a touch of bluegrass to the proceedings on "Keep Your Hat on Jenny," further pushing Taylor's boundaries and using her fiddle skills where they naturally belong. When she chimes in on a gorgeous live version of Taylor's classic "Angel of the Morning," she trumps both Merrilee Rush and Juice Newton, who scored previous hits with the song, and the alternating vocals bring the ballad to a natural male/female relationship setting. Buddy Miller guests to rev up the inevitable "Wild Thing," returning the hoary rock standard to its original Americana roots in a version that's every bit the equal of the numerous covers the tune has spawned throughout the decades. Ultimately, hearing this compilation will make the listener want to explore what they might have missed on the previous albums, a testament not just to this disc, but to the talents of its stars.

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