In this day of specialized labels, specific tastes, and narrow radio play lists, it seems that the number of artists that attempt to break new ground with each CD release is rare. Many artists are practically forced to simply recreate a sound that will keep a fan-base intact and not alienated. There are great acts that are great at doing such “controlled reinvention”. Drive by Truckers, Coldplay, Kathleen Edwards and Ryan Adams are some recent examples of artists that continue to be exciting, by only slightly branching-out without drastically altering their sound (Adam’s Rock & Roll being a bit more than a minor alteration to his previous sound). On the other side of this coin are artists that seem to suffer from an amazingly creative and fruitful form of amnesia. Instead of pulling something out of the back-catalog to remind their fans what makes them great, they simply decide to create something new that may or may not leave folks wondering,”what happened”?? My Morning Jacket displayed that sense of excellent reckless abandon with “Evil Urges”. Another artist who has decided that the ways of the past are not necessarily those of the future is Carrie Rodriguez, with her second solo album, She Aint Me.
Don’t get me wrong, this album isn’t too drastic of a departure from her previous solo album, Seven Angels on a Bicycle. That album was excellently written and beautifully produced, just as this one is. The departure is from her work as the duo partner of Chip Taylor. The collaboration with Taylor is what made her a well-known and respected fiddle player, writer and vocalist. Her twangy vocal style, snappy fiddle and overall fresh perspective was the engine that drove the duo’s albums to the top of Americana charts for several years. With She Aint Me, Rodriguez fully exposes herself as an artist that is far more than a simple fiddle playin’ side-woman.
The first 4 tracks of the album, “Infinite Night”, followed by the title track, then “Rag Doll” and finally, “Absence” are better than many ENTIRE albums I listen to on a weekly basis. I hate comparisons, especially ones that are very likely obvious and over-used, but I dare you to listen to these tracks and not think of Lucinda Williams. Both artists posess voices that are distinctive and instantly recognizable, add to that these first 4 tracks showcase a range of tempo, attitude and vulnerability that should make any singer-songwriter envious, as Williams has been doing for years. With “Rag Doll”, Rodriguez delivers what is likely my favorite vocal performance of the year, if not longer. To say the song is heart-breaking is a severe crime of understatement. During the chorus, as she sings to a lover that likely doesn’t deserve her love, “I feel like a floppy rag doll” and “I make it hard to love me“, Rodriguez’s voice reaches an aching whisper that somehow displays the strength of a cry. That fragility, mixed with her catharsis propels this track from a simple song about troubled love into a story that leaves more questions than answers about how the subjects will end up. Before you ask, if you haven’t already, yes, Rodriguez’s fiddling prowess is featured in various spots on the album. The fiddle’s most prominent role is in the cut, “Absence”. A feeling similar to that of greeting an old friend hits as this song plays out, reminding us that this is a performer who wants us to know that she may be giving other instruments a turn, but her love lies with the fiddle.
Over the length of the disc, we see guitar, piano, and the fiddle employed to a wide array of tempo and production. The cuts that feature mainly acoustic guitar, piano and Rodriguez’s vocal are songs that could be turned into cheesy VH1-ready “girl love songs” if in the hands of someone else. Tracks such as the closing, “Can’t Cry Enough” contain a depth that glossy radio and TV typically have a hard time fully grasping.
Fans of “Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez”, please take note, and save your worries, She Aint Me is an absolute triumph on every level. The same angelic twang, expert musicianship and vivid storytelling are as present here as they ever have been. Creating diversity inside of a body of work for an artist can often times be risky. When someone with this quality of vision and ability looks to try something new, the risk becomes the listeners reward.
About the author: I likes me some wine, women and waffles, not always in that order (but usually). Chaucer is cool, but fart jokes are even better. You feel like spikin' your country with a little soul or mix in a little rock without the roll? Lemme hear from ya!!