Vocalist and violinist Carrie Rodriguez, who made a series of wonderful albums with folk singer/songwriter Chip Taylor, has been recording on her own for a decade now with increasingly impressive results. The new Lola, her fifth full-length solo studio set, is her most ambitious, imaginative, and successful project to date.
The CD was inspired by the Tejano music Rodriguez has loved since childhood, including 1940s recordings by her San Antonio-born great aunt and the work of Mexican singer Lola Beltran (the subject of a song here called “I Dreamed I was Lola Beltran”). The program mixes old Mexican favorites sung in Spanish with Rodriguez originals performed in English. The sublime Tex-Mex instrumentation is perhaps not what you’d expect from that genre—there’s no brass, no accordion—but it is terrific. Guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Viktor Krauss, pedal steel and guitar player Luke Jacobs, guitarist David Pulkingham, and percussionist Brannen Temple beautifully complement Rodriguez’s distinctive alto.
Two tracks disappointed me slightly. After reading in the credits that the Mavericks’ Raul Malo guests on “Perfida,” the leadoff track, I looked forward to what seemed like a potentially noteworthy collaboration; but the mix deemphasizes Malo’s vocals to the point where you barely know he’s there. Also, “Z,” one of the new originals, seems out of place and relatively prosaic.
But these are quibbles. Malo’s small role notewithstanding, the lilting “Perfida” is superb, as are such other standouts as “Que Manera De Perder” and the instrumental “Si No Te Vas.” This is a fine album, deserving of wide attention.
Jeff Burger edited Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters, both published by Chicago Review Press. His third book for the same publisher will be available in fall 2016. His website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary.