Chip Taylor, The Little Prayers Trilogy, album review: A terrific triple-album of social commentaries and romance

The latter is the most impressive of the trilogy, its jail songs and political-prisoner narratives wielding a powerful punch of conscience

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The Independent Culture

They’re a talented tribe, those Voights: Chip Taylor, brother to Jon Voight and thus uncle to Angelina Jolie, is a songwriter best known for penning the seminal hard-rock riff to “Wild Thing” and country torch-song “Angel of the Morning”, but who has in his dotage become the Americana equivalent of Leonard Cohen.

His grizzled baritone murmur was never more effectively employed than on this terrific triple-album of careworn social commentaries and romantic entreaties. It started as a single disc, Little Prayers, whose minimally embellished style set the format for the torrent of creativity that produced the accompanying Love & Pain and Behind an Iron Door. The latter is the most impressive of the trilogy, its jail songs and political-prisoner narratives wielding a powerful punch of conscience.

Alongside anthems of internationalist fellowship such as “Czechoslovakian Heaven”, and a tribute to the Catonsville 9, who suffered sentences for destroying draft files (sparing hundreds of potential Vietnam War casualties), are simple but moving pieces like “He’s a Good Guy (As Well You Know)”, on which Taylor recalls the gentle nobility of Willie Nelson  as he urges us not to pre-judge ex-cons. The languid piano and weary flugelhorn evoke the spiritual erosion of the incarcerated, as does the pump-organ on “Sleep with Open Windows”, to which Lucinda Williams’ wracked voice adds pathos to the convict’s yearning.

Elsewhere, there’s a quiet dignity to Taylor’s acknowledgement of his shortcomings in “Nothin’ Comin’ Out of Me That I Like”; though he expects others to strive as hard for moral probity, gently reminding “The Supreme Court” of their civic duty in being “sworn to be the lighthouse” for the weakest. And, this being the season for such sentiments, in “Merry F’n Christmas” Taylor produces a plea for fellowship and forgiveness that captures the spirit of the age with a robust calm.

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