by: Carrie Rodriguez

No album in Carrie Rodriguez's ample catalog better represents her as an artist than Lola. It was recorded in Austin with producer Lee Townsend and the Sacred Hearts: bassist Viktor Krauss, guitarists Bill Frisell, David Pulkingham, and Luke Jacobs, drummer Brannen Temple, and Max Baca guesting on bajo sexto. Rodriguez delivers a set of originals and thoroughly reimagined standards by Mexican composers in English, Spanish, and Spanglish. She draws heavily on the inspiration of her great aunt, San Antonio singer Eva Garza who, during the 1940s, established herself internationally. This album of "culturally blended music for a culturally blended world," opens with Alberto Dominguez's "Perfidia," a jukebox dancefloor hit by Glenn Miller. Rodriguez's take commences as a dramatic tango, but slips the frame to become a tender ranchera with Raul Malo guesting on harmony vocals. "I Dreamed I Was Lola Beltran," written by Rodriguez and Susan Gibson, references the legendary singer and her duet partner, cantor Javier Solis. It's a metaphor for a present-day breakup. Slippery guitar Americana and brushed drums whisper around the ache of longing in her voice. The theme of a relationship strained to the breaking point is at the heart of the killer Mexican-style cumbia in "La Ultima Vez," written with Gina Chavez (who also sings harmony vocals). Some of the set's best cuts were composed by the great Cuco Sanchez. "Que Manera de Perder" is a bilingual duet between Rodriguez (in Spanish) and longtime musical partner Jacobs (in English). It is revisioned as a Texas country waltz: sad, tender, and true. Rodriguez gives her violin some playing time in the standard "Frio en al Alma." It's a ranchera-cum-tango sung in Spanish that communicates longing and sultry passion in any language. Rodriguez goes back to her Americana roots on the "The West Side" an understated yet searing reflection on otherness and one of the finer tunes she's written. There are two versions of Sanchez's "Si No Te Vas" to close the recording. The first is an instrumental that features her violin up front with Frisell's guitar, almost like duet voices; they are appended by drums, bass, and nylon-string rhythm guitar. The second, sung in Spanish, is rendered very close to the bittersweet original, a love song where the protagonist begs the beloved not to leave. The emotion in Rodriguez's voice brings Sanchez's poetic, yearning lyric into the world as Baca's bajo sexto, upright bass, and nylon-string guitar create a fluid frame.This version travels from south of the U.S.-Mexico border and meets it predecessor in the richness of Texas' musical tradition. Rodriguez has been hinting at the ambition displayed on Lola for some time. What's surprising is how a record of such scope and imagination can be rendered so intimately and elegantly. ~ Thom Jurek

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