Correctly believing 1973's Last Chance to be the best of his pre-comeback outings, Chip Taylor has taken the matter of reissuing into his own hands. It's not exactly a lost classic, but it is a simple, charming, and perhaps unintentionally revealing portrait both of the artist and of music in the early '70s.
The cover artwork, of a bearded Taylor in post-Western neo-hippie garb, seated at a card table surrounded by dancehall girls, seems in retrospect a reminder of the importance of Kris Kristofferson. No disrespect to Taylor meant, but it's easy to forget how much of a crossover figure Kristofferson was, how effortlessly he managed to surf between pop and country stardom. And how hard that act was to follow.
Taylor, too, exists in that nether world between pop and country (without the stardom, save as a songwriter). The themes that dominate his work are firmly in place here: love, family, gambling, and a curiously shy yet aggressive concern that his place in music history not be forgotten. Never comfortable as a performer, Taylor seems chronically concerned that writing hit songs -- not to mention rock standards -- is not enough. It may not help that his brother is the actor Jon Voight, whose ascendency somehow corresponds (in my mind at least) with that of Kristofferson.
Anne Murray had a hit with the best cut here, "Son of a Rotten Gambler", but it's a far more revealing song in the hands of its author, who wrestles with the tensions between his three passions -- music, horses, and his children -- and reveals far more emotion than his normal wry, New York cool usually admits. "I Wasn't Born in Tennessee" is a different kind of confessional, a contemplation of his difficulty writing and playing what is perceived to be a regional music (country) as an outsider (a Yankee).
The oddest track, however, is "101 In Cashbox", a name-check of all the friends who tried to make his recording of "Angel of the Morning" a hit (and failed), linked to the story of a racehorse's up-and-down-and-up career. That and the ramshackle closer, "Last Chance", give a curious, encounter-group feel to the whole disc that speaks clearly of a time and place music critics have not yet rehabilitated.
As the disc closes, somebody says into the microphone, "Don't quit your day job, Chip." Well, he's not a great singer, but he can be a first-rate songwriter. And so long as that remains his day job, it's all good.