Rodriguez shoots way off her Austin roots

Oct 21, 2008 | Reviews, Series 24

By JOSEF WOODARD
NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT

Everyone who caught the Lobero Theatre debut of Austin, Texas-bred fiddler-singer Carrie Rodriguez two years back — at the time, as the somewhat shy but bounteously gifted sidekick of veteran singer-songwriter Chip Taylor — might have scratched their heads in wonderment by what transpired on the same stage Saturday night. This was a new, expanded and spotlighted Ms. Rodriguez, a New Yorker by way of her proud Austin roots, all dressed up as an inspired late twentysomething singer-songwriter in her own right, and rarin’ to go.

In a dazzling dress and a greening talent bursting with promise, Ms. Rodriguez seized the spotlight as the leader of a fine young band, on the heels her new album “She Ain’t Me.” The album, a follow-up to her debut “Seven Angels on a Bicycle,” finds her evolving even further into a zone where country, art-pop and the Mexican part of her Texan heritage merge.

On this night, Ms. Rodriguez was the apt headliner of the Sings Like Hell concert series. The series, organized by Austin-based Peggie Jones, often has showcased the legendary musical might and heat of that city. And this night amounted to a show all about the charms of Austin, between Ms. Rodriguez and the fantastic, currently Austin-based band, the South Austin Jug Band.

Don’t let the band’s deceptive name fool you: This jug band has less to do with the old musical tradition that was revived in the 1960s and that led to the formation of the Grateful Dead and Jim Kweskin’s band. No, the organic, down-home eclecticism of the band, led by singer-songwriter James Hyland, involves a mostly acoustic setting with two impressive fiddlers, the occasional smatterings of an electric guitar and such memorable songs as “Dive Bar,””I Hear a Train” and a cover version of Beck’s “Jackass.”

Some of the stronger moments in Ms. Rodriguez’s show had direct links to Mr. Taylor, who hired the young fiddler more or less off the streets of Austin when he heard her. She co-wrote the impressive tunes “Seven Angels on a Bicycle” and “I Don’t Wanna’ Play House Anymore” with Mr. Taylor, and his own seductive “Big Kiss” was one of the highlights of Saturday’s set. While playing an electric mandolin, a bass mandolin and occasionally singing without an instrument over the course of her set, Ms. Rodriguez seemed most comfortable when singing with her fiddle under her chin, as on the moving song “Absence.”

Ms. Rodriguez’s own songwriting might not yet be on the same level of her famous father, David Rodriguez, but it’s exciting to catch her on the way up. She boasts a willingness to delve into new and old musical terrain that’s matched with her bone-deep talent. Stay tuned.