Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Blended Sound: Lola by Carrie Rodriguez

Carrie Rodriguez's new album, Lola, was released by Luz Records in February.

If it’s right to judge a book by its cover, then perhaps it’s right to judge an album by the musicians who play on it. That’s probably an unfair assessment but I think Carrie Rodriguez can make a case for her new album, Lola (Luz Records). Her new record features a band called The Sacred Hearts – featuring guitarist Bill Frisell, Viktor Kraus on bass, Brannen Temple on drums, David Pulkingham on nylon string and electric guitars, and Luke Jacobs on lap & pedal steel guitars. Raul Malo, the leader of The Mavericks, sings a lovely duet with Rodriguez on track one, and Max Baca, founder of the Grammy Award-winning band called, Los Texmaniacs, plays on the last two cuts. It’s a group that has a fully informed country sound, with enough Mexican influence to make it special. The record was recorded in Austin, Texas, and it sounds like they left the door to the studio open to get that mystical part of the world into the room.

Lola is more than just a Tex-Mex mash-up. It’s an album of chestnuts such as “Perfidia” and “Que Manera de Perder” that have seeped into the mainstream of American music along with some new works that Rodriguez says are “a handful of original songs in English and Spanglish” that complement her crowd-financed album.

I first heard Rodriguez in 2013 on an album called Give Me All You Got (Ninth Street Opus) and I loved her sound and her edgy delivery. Before that, she recorded several albums with Chip Taylor that include some magical moments. Rodriguez can give a song enough sway to soften the hardest of hearts. It’s all in good fun, of course, to service the song and engage the listener. On Lola she does this best on “Z” (Zee), a grungy, saw dust of a track like you've never heard. Another highlight is the passionately performed “Frio En El Alma – which, when translated, means “Cold in the Soul."

The producer of Lola is Lee Townsend, the long-time engineer behind some of Bill Frisell’s most interesting albums, usually found in the jazz section. (Townshend also produced Give Me All You Want.) Frisell’s releases on the Nonesuch label – numbering at least a dozen over the years – present the guitarist in a musical confluence of jazz, country, and Americana. Lola has that important flavour about it: a beautifully recorded mix of emotional songs with just enough sentimentality to glue the parts together. While it doesn’t have the high-energy excitement of her last record, Lola does have a maturity and charm that can only come from a grounded musician with nothing to prove. Rodriguez sings confidently and plays violin with a tasteful sense of abandon. In other words – except for "Z" – this is music for small rooms, not honky-tonks.

Rodriguez seems to understand that her music and her storytelling don’t need to be dressed up in fancy clothes to be engaging. This is particularly true on the ballad “Caricias," a charming duet with her long-time band mate, Luke Jacobs.

Rodriguez states that Lola is “culturally blended music for a culturally blended world.” Perhaps she should send a copy to a guy named Trump.

John Corcelli is a music critic, broadcast/producer, musician and member of the Festival Wind Orchestra. He’s just finished Frank Zappa FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Father of Invention (Backbeat Books) to be released in September.

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