Punch Drunk Love
Carrie Rodriguez comes out fighting. She diverges from whatever expectations one might have about the tender folkie, Americana-style singer-songwriter and starts belting out a litany of complaints about the state of contemporary urban life. “Drug courts, crooked cops and thieves / Preying on the poor and on the weak”, she spews out in a clipped voice that barely contains her anger. Rodriguez goes on to complain about boys fighting wars they are too young to understand, the distance between the rich and poor, the destruction of the environment, and lets us know we are living in dark times, or “infinite night”, as she calls it.
When life becomes more than one can bear, there are alternatives to just stewing. There’s the option of intoxication. Rodriguez sings of the sweet salvation of forgetting frequently on her latest disc. Songs talk about relaxing and not losing one’s mind, having one’s mind “slip away” and just “letting go”. What else can one do to find solace in this crazy world?
This doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol. Rodriguez understands, like Joni Mitchell, that one can get drunk on love, the strongest poison and medicine of all. Songs of being deeply immersed in love spring up all through the album. Salvation can only be found in each other’s arms.
Speaking of Mitchell, there are many echoes of Joni’s mid-period here, especially on the haunting “The Big Mistake”, which sounds like it came right off Hejira. That’s a good thing. One of Rodriguez’s greatest talents is her ability to glide from identity to identity while retaining a high standard of quality. Many people have wanted to create a good Joni Mitchell song, but few can pull it off. In addition, the title track could be a lost Aimee Mann gem, and “The Mask of Moses” could come from an early Lucinda Williams album. This effect is heightened by the fact that Williams sings back up on it.
Rodriguez is clearly searching for her own identity as she tries on these different roles. This gives her the opportunity to explore diverse sides of herself that have been dormant on previous recordings. Her trademark fiddle playing can only be found on three cuts. Instead, her voice takes center stage, as does the songwriting. She no longer works with Chip Taylor, her long time cohort, but employs a number of talented collaborators that include the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, Semisonic’s Dan Wilson, Son Volt’s Jim Boquist, and Mary Gauthier.
Producer Malcolm Burns (Emmylou Harris, Chris Whitley) ensures that the various musical styles form a coherent unit by giving the disc a gemlike sheen. Rodriguez’s voice always sounds crystal clear. Even when the protagonist of her song is upset, the lyrics are given their due and each word—and each ache in her vocals—can be heard. The instrumentation provides more of a decorative function as Rodriguez’s voice propels the material forward.
Carrie Rodriguez takes a bold step on She Ain’t Me. She’s got nowhere to hide. Despite what the title says, it is all her. Rodriguez deserves applause for doing such a good job of presenting the many sides of herself.
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// Notes from the Road
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