The full title of this album is "Chip Taylor With Ghost Train". I'm not sure who Ghost Train are but I assume they are his backing band, George Kiriakis, David Kapell, John Platania, Joe Renda, David Mansfield and Beau Segal.
They never, as far as I can tell, recorded under that name anywhere else.
That's not to say they weren't exceptional musicians.
Chip Taylor was at a point in his career (read my other comments for biographical details) where , even without hits he could command good production facilities and basically run his own show when it came to recording. Here he produces and I assume picked the band. Some had played with him before and the others date back to north-east bands from the early 60s and no doubt knew Chip from them.
George Kiriakis (lead acoustic guitar) had been in rockabilly country pop duo The Echoes (with Ed Sulik), a duo that could have made it, but "payola" and history scene stopped their success. Dave Kapell (bass) had played session for Chip before. John Platania (electric guitar) had played all over the place most notably for Van Morrison. "Crazy" Joe Renda (keyboards) was later remembered for his Kiss-related novelty project Crazy Joe And The Variable Speed Band but his roots extend back to early 60s garage rock with The Sherwoods, David Mansfield (pedal steel, fiddle, dobro) was formerly of country rock band Quacky Duck and His Barnyard Friends and then part of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, and, Beau Segal was in rock band Pulse and Island.
They can play.
Chip had tried his hands at all sorts of music but there was a common thread to all his music, namely a rustic, country-ish earthiness which he had picked up as kid (in Yonkers, New York) whilst listening to hours of country and rockabilly on the radio.
He had musical contemporaries in the same boat, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Mickey Newbury, Jerry Jeff Walker, John Prine and others. They were a little country, but not country enough, a little rock on occasion but not quite rocky, a little singer-songwriter and a little folk-y.
At the time it was called, variously, singer-songwriter, county, outlaw country or any other number of things but eventually the music would come to be called, when fully fledged, Americana.
And, this best describes Chip's music, though there is a (pre) "alt country" overlap.
Having said all that it would be reasonable for someone to assume this is a country record. There is quite a bit of pedal steel and the usual country lyrics. But, what differentiates it from straight country (like others of its ilk) is the use of other non-country traditions in music and a sensibility which refuses to be 100% country.
A lot of the songs are in the folk narrative story tradition also and, what works, are those tales of people with their dreams, lives lived and loved. It is hard not to be sucked in and enjoy the songs and stories. And, most of it is quite upbeat and positive, which is hard to do with taste.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Peter Walker's Circus – an excellent song with a bit of bounce and some great lines like, "And we'll sing a Willie Nelson song and pass the drinks around."
- Three Younger Bandits – a touch of the Kris Kristofferson's here (specifically, "The Pilgrim"). Still, it's good.
- Hello Atlanta – not too bad, and it grows on you.
- Farmer's Daughter – (Haggard) – a cover from Merle Haggard's 1971 "Hag" album. A gentle love song.
- Nothin' Like You Girl – some good lyrics about a father and his child.
- Somebody Shoot Out the Jukebox – A song about old school rock 'n' roll that name checks first generation rock 'n' rollers. Like most of it's ilk it's not rock 'n' roll itself but it is affectionate, though here there is also a cynical dig at contemporary music.
- The Gambler – a gambler in life not necessarily at the table.
- Still My Son – schmaltz but ingratiating schmaltz. A emotional crescendo with accompanying flutes and backing vocals but it still works. The Highwaymen would tap into this emotionalism (though in a more rough edged way) later.
- I'd Like to Be That Man – very thick on the drama. Perhaps a little to thick on this one. Lots of dramatic percussion and heavenly backing vocals.
- Dads' Club Sizzlers – references to "The Bad News Bear" and "The Sunshine Boys" in an amusing funky song with sound effect about a baseball game featuring the "Dad's Club Sizzzler's" whoever they may be … and whatever that may mean.
Another good album from Chip Taylor. Not perfect but with enough good tracks to make it worthwhile. And it grows on you … I'm keeping it.
1977 Hello Atlanta Country Singles #93
Peter Walker's Circus
Somebody Shoot Out the Jukebox