Warner Brothers signed singer/songwriter Chip Taylor to a record contract 35 years ago based on huge '60s hits ("Wild Thing" for The Troggs and "Angel of the Morning" for Merrilee Rush) and a rocked up 1971 solo album called "Gasoline." What Taylor delivered was a triptych of country albums that were confusing at the time and may seem quaintly unassuming now, but were nothing short of groundbreaking in retrospect.
Taylor's first Warner album, "Last Chance," actually forced the perplexed label to form a country division to promote an album and a market they didn't understand. The climate had changed by the time Taylor recorded "This Side of the Big River" in 1975. The label had become slightly more genre savvy. "Big River" reached the Top 40 of the country charts briefly but tanked when Warner pulled support.
The album has been out of print for three decades until Collectors' Choice decided to reissue it this year, and while "Big River" is no huge revelation, it serves as a signpost for the direction Taylor would take in his future. Taylor was clearly ahead of the curve, using "Same Ol' Story" to take a stand against the Viet Nam war and a good deal of the rest of the album to either write moody story songs or love letters to his estranged wife.
"May God Be with Me" is pretty standard country fare for the mid-'70s, but "I've Been Tied" goes for a funkier groove and Taylor's muscular cover of Johnny Cash's "Big River" was so good that Cash himself canvassed DJs to take a chance on the album.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the way that Taylor managed to weave all of his creative gifts - pop songcraft, country and soul appreciation, engaging storytelling - into a set of songs that showed how personal and intimate country music could become if given the chance.