Carrie Rodriguez: Lola

The wondrous Lola is further proof Rodriguez can move the heart in any language.
Carrie Rodriguez

Will we ever get to know the real Carrie Rodriguez? Sure, it’s documented that she’s the daughter of singer/songwriter David Rodriquez. Making her name working alongside mentor Chip Taylor, the pair released four collections of duets before Rodriguez struck out on her own a decade ago with her debut, Seven Angels on a Bicycle. A refreshing mix of Texas honky-tonk and New York coffee shop cool largely written by Taylor, Rodriguez followed with 2008’s brooding She Ain’t Me, positioning herself as a Laurel Canyon songstress.

Taking on the role of balladeer with 2010’s Love and Circumstance, a collection of covers from elders such as Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Townes Van Zandt and her own father to contemporaries including Lucinda Williams, Julie Miller and M. Ward, Rodriguez returned to her native Austin, Texas, prior to 2013’s Give Me All You Got, a glossy clutch of love songs penned by Rodriguez, partner and musical collaborator Luke Jacobs, and again, Taylor.

Each release being a new avenue for Rodriguez’s immense musical talents, none have yet to expose a clear identity. Is she a Tex-Mex fiddler? A country siren? A multi-instrumental troubadour? On Lola, her fifth album — and third consecutive release working with producer Lee Townsend — Rodriguez is all three.

Drawing from personal experience and her American roots, the Berklee College of Music graduate stakes her claim as a fiddle-toting bandolero on the red dirt throwdown “Z”, a sly critique of gender norms and sexism in country music: “So when you see me in the elevator/ Second-string spectator / Fiddle in my hand / Don’t ask me what I play / I’ve played for DJs, presidents, single moms, immigrants / Dodged a few bullets along the way.” Addressing the disparate heritage and multicultural landscape of Austin, Rodriguez toes socio-political ground on the soothing yet pointed “The West Side”, spotlighting the divide that still exists in Austin and cities around the world. Singing, “You are welcome here / But remember dear / That you are different in every way / You may take a bus / Join the rest of us / But don’t be tempted to stay,” the significance of this year’s election rhetoric is not lost on Rodriguez.

Where either song could have been on prior albums, the premise of Lola is Rodriguez’s “Ameri-Chicana” heritage. With the Sacred Hearts — Bill Frisell, Viktor Krauss, Luke Jacobs, David Pulkingham and Brannen Temple — Rodriguez reimagines ranchera songs from Mexican composers, including Alberto Domínguez (“Perfidia”), Miguel Ángel Valladares Rebolledo (“Frío en el Alma”), María Teresa Lara (“Noche de Ronda”) and Cuco Sánchez (“Que Manera de Perder” / “Si No Te Vas”), while creating her own inspired neo-traditional recordings such as drifter tale “Llano Estacado” and the tension-filled relationship that unravels on “La Última Vez”, its narrator starting with the blunt lines, “You don’t like the way I say your name / Well I wish I had mine back.”

Via a black and white photo of great aunt Eva Garza, Rodriguez adopts the title alter ego on the sepia toned “I Dreamed I was Lola Beltrán”. Garza, a San Antonio native, was a CBS radio staple in the 1940s, with hits “Celosa” and “Sabor de Engaño” accounting for millions of albums sold. Like Garza, Beltrán was a Mexican singer and actress. Seeking idealized love, Rodriguez pines, “I dreamed I was Lola Beltrán / You were Javier Solís.” Such romanticism fails to materialize on “Perfidia”, a song covered by Solís and featuring the Mavericks’ Raul Malo.

Refusing to show her hand, Rodriguez keeps us guessing yet again. While not the starting point for one to enter the musical world of Carrie Rodriguez, the creative left turn that is the wondrous Lola is further proof Rodriguez can move the heart in any language.

RATING 7 / 10
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