Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez

Talk about a duo that quickly found the sweet spot. Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez struck small-label gold last year with their savvy debut, Let's Leave This Town. It featured an instantly endearing ditty called "Sweet Tequila Blues" that carved a niche for itself in the neo-Texas phenomenon and gained significant radio exposure. On their second set of folksy duets, the musical couple has achieved a quiet, rich depth that could be mistaken for a musical mating of Guy Clark and Iris Dement. Taylor's songwriting here is certainly the equal of Clark's or Terry Allen's, and Ms. Rodriguez, the Berklee-trained fiddler, seems to have fully discovered the nuances of her pleasant, deceptively effective voice. In the countrified Austin-tatious acoustic setting of The Trouble with Humans, Taylor and Rodriguez have found a comfort level where they complement each other on par with noted singing partnerships like Buddy and Julie Miller or Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

New York-born Taylor, the brother of Jon Voight, is perhaps best remembered for writing the smash '60s hit "Wild Thing" and the smash '70s hit "Angel of the Morning," but he was also an early practitioner of the alt-country form with albums like 1971's Gasoline and the 1973 classic Chip Taylor's Last Chance. Today, after a few years in Austin, he has absolutely mastered the art of Texas songwriting.

Highlighted by Taylor's sparse arrangement, "Memphis, Texas" catches all the wide-open-spaces isolation of a nowhere farming town. The Dust Bowl echoes when the duo sings, "I'm a dusty old road by the back of the barn / with the wind blowin' 'cross me on this Panhandle farm / I'm a sky with no end trying to rain / when the ground's gettin' thirsty, that's who I am." "All the Rain" is a hoedown jig with all the energy of a Saturday-night barn dance, and Taylor's droll, resigned vocal on "Curves and Things" adds significantly to the songwriting canon that developed around Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. His poetics are saturated with intimate reality: "Some words should hit the air like silence / I tell myself just don't go there / stand up, be strong, say it just like you feel it / no matter how it sings / I miss your curves and things."

"Fall," featuring Rushad Eggleston's somber cello, contains the intelligence and witty observational powers of a Steve Goodman song, but "Dirty Little Texas Story," with heartbroken lines like "she may buy some love in that Texas town like a hero buyin' a beer / but she can't show her face around this place, her love ain't no good here," is a match for some of Terry Allen's hard-boiled Tex-centric tragedies.

Taylor and Rodriguez have quickly developed into one of the most artistically interesting acts on the Texas music scene. Actually, Texas is probably too small for this kind of world-class talent.

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William Michael Smith