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Monday, April 8, 2013

Carrie Rodriguez Finds Her Voice

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It would seem only natural that Carrie Rodriguez would have made the move into songwriting and being a solo artist in her own right after playing fiddle as a sideman for other artists. After all, as the daughter of acclaimed singer-songwriter David Rodriguez, songwriting is in her blood. But instead of inspiring her to pursue songwriting at a young age, Rodriguez says her father’s background actually made her hesitate to go down that road.

“If you’re the kid of someone who’s known for what they do and they’re really good at it, which my dad is—he’s a very renowned songwriter—you don’t want to go there,” Rodriguez says. “It’s a little intimidating.”

But her plans to be a sideman changed in 2001 when Rodriguez played the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, as a member of a band called Hayseed. Veteran songwriter Chip Taylor, who wrote “Wild Thing,” saw her and offered to take Rodriguez on the road and under his wing. This partnership led them to record three albums as a duo, while Taylor worked to convince Rodriguez to explore songwriting herself. She had a few co-writing credits on her albums with Taylor—2003’s The Trouble with Humans and 2005’s Red Dog Tracks—before stepping out as a solo act with her 2006 album, Seven Angels on a Bicycle. Still, Taylor was a major presence on Seven Angels on a Bicycle, writing seven of its songs, and co-writing four others with Rodriguez.

The album gained enough notice that Rodriguez landed a deal with major label EMI Records, which paired her with such A-list songwriters as Gary Louris (of The Jayhawks) and Dan Wilson for her 2008 album She Ain’t Me, her first without direct songwriting contributions from Taylor. Rodriguez co-wrote all but one song on that record, which marked her full-on arrival as a solo artist.

But almost as quickly as Rodriguez had stepped up to the big leagues with her EMI deal, she was dropped from the roster. This helped her realize it was a good time to step back and try to process all that had happened over the preceding seven years.

“So much of my early musical career was a whirlwind. It happened so quick,” Rodriguez said. “It left me kind of just wanting to catch my breath and wondering, ‘Well, I’ve enjoyed all of this, but what is truly my voice when it’s not being influenced by these amazing songwriters and record label executives who are hoping for me to have a hit?’ I needed some time to figure out what it all meant.”

She bought herself some time by doing a covers record, 2010’s Love And Circumstance, which helped her re-connect with her musical roots and figure out her next step as a songwriter and solo artist.

And with her new Give Me All You Got, Rodriguez returned sounding more confident, and interestingly enough, more willing to stretch beyond her roots in folk and country. There are still elements of the acoustic-leaning folk of her earlier work, but Rodriguez works with a larger instrumental and stylistic palette here. “Devil In Mind,” one of a pair of songs Rodriguez co-wrote with Taylor, is a gritty, spirited tune with a bluesy chorus and bits of rock and folk elsewhere. “I Cry For Love” is an edgy vocal tour de force that combines blues, rock and country. The gently swinging “Tragic” has a bit of torch-song jazz in its smoky late-night sound.

“I think I have a lot of different genres that come out of me,” Rodriguez said. “And I love having the freedom to let them come out. I no longer feel afraid to let something sound country if that’s the way it comes out. But I also, at the same time, think the new album really runs the gamut of styles. Some of those songs came out sounding like really odd little indie-pop ditties or something. That’s just how they came out.”

On her first tour in support of Give Me All You Got, Rodriguez is giving songs from the new album and her back catalog a facelift. That’s because she’s touring only with multi-instrumentalist Luke Jacobs (a featured player on the new record), so much of the instrumentation used on her albums is missing for this tour.

That’s no problem for Rodriguez, who says the variety of instruments she and Jacobs use keeps things fresh.

“It’s really fun for me to find new, fresh arrangements of both the new and the older stuff,” she said. “When you have just two people, the music is very elastic. We can really take liberties that you can’t take when you have drums. So we can stretch solos out in different ways, change tempos. Usually it sounds good.”

Carrie Rodriguez plays the Turner Hall Ballroom on Friday, April 12 with openers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum of The Cactus Blossoms. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.

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