By: David Higdon
The lyric "Drug lords, crooked cops and thieves/ preying on the poor and on the weak" from "Infinite Night" open Carrie Rodriguez's album, She Ain't Me (released August 5 on Manhattan Records), and usher the listener into the darkness that has crept into the doe-eyed songstress' outlook.
She Ain't Me is by no means an overwhelmingly heavyweight of emotion that will bring the listener down, but it does embody a deeper understanding of the human heart than its predecessor, 2006's Seven Angels on a Bicycle. The immediate difference in the Texas siren's two solo albums is that Seven Angels was an album that found Rodriguez performing a majority of songs either written by or co-written by her partner of three duet albums, Chip Taylor, and She Ain't Me has Rodriguez's own touch across ten of the eleven tracks.
This lyric-driven excursion through a variety of characters and situations requires chances to be taken in songwriting and sound. On board as producer is Malcolm Burn (Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris) who keeps Rodriguez's vocals in the front and never dilutes them with the music. The hit worthy title track is an example of the attention placed on her vocals for this album. With a full band carrying on, Rodriguez uses a delivery of attitude and female delicacy to pinpoint a directness from her heart to the unwinding ties of a straying lover. The result is a blend between Lucinda Williams and Jenny Lewis.
Rodriguez is no stranger to the importance of allowing the delicate remoteness found between notes to flourish, and the opening to "Rag Doll" allows for this effect to shine. From framing her vocal highs and lows with an intentional quiver that reciprocates the highs and lows in relationships, the lyric, "You make it hard to love you/ but now it's all I seem to know," registers with anyone who has accepted the frustrations that come with a relationship in order to understand another person.
Perhaps best known for her fiddle prowess onstage, Rodriguez has opted to keep an ensemble approach on the album until the Appalachian rock groove of "Absence" introduces the audience to her recognized musical ability. Choosing to use the electric mandolin and tenor guitar on the majority of tracks, Rodriguez's fiddle is a welcome driving force alongside the rest of the band. Even a visit by Ms. Williams herself on "Mask of Moses" doesn't distract from the group effort and serves more to accelerate Rodriguez as a passionate singer.
Keeping the emotional theme, the layers of sensual obsession that spill out of "Let Me In" are no different. Delivered somewhere between a Southern accent and a bedroom whisper, "Tell me what gets you off/ I don't mind if it's rough or soft" exposes a lover longing to connect. With Gary Louris (ex-The Jayhawks) lending his touch to four of the album's tracks, She Ain't Me finds itself rooted deeply in songwriter creativity.
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