She Ain't Me

by: Carrie Rodriguez

Singer/songwriter/fiddler Carrie Rodriguez's sophomore solo album is substantially different from its predecessor in a few key ways. First, ex-employer Chip Taylor, who was a considerable presence on her first disc, having written or co-written the majority of the songs, is now gone in all but spirit. Carrie Rodriguez picks up the slack by co-writing all but one tune, calling in ringers like ex-Jayhawks frontman Gary Louris and producer Malcolm Burn, both of whom also contribute instrumentally. Additionally, for better or worse, Rodriguez only plays fiddle on three tunes, sticking with tenor guitar and mandolin on seven others. While there's nothing wrong with that, it's like having a great quarterback only hand off the ball instead of passing it. Interestingly, one of those tunes, "Absence," is an album highlight. Co-written with artistic soulmate Mary Gauthier, it taps into a dark, spooky backwoods vibe that's both natural and haunting. The focus is on Rodriguez's voice, a pleasant, often affecting trill that has lost some of its Suzanne Vega-like comparisons since the last effort, but remains evocative and perfect for this predominantly atmospheric follow-up. Producer Burn, who knows atmospherics due to his work on Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball and with Chris Whitley, brings his mojo, and the combination works well. Rodriguez goes for a hit with the title cut, a pleasant if commercially driven ditty that wouldn't sound out of place on contemporary country radio, which is likely the driving force behind it. But Rodriguez is better when she lurks between the cracks of country and folk, as she does on the majority of this set. The stripped-down "Let Me In" features standup bass, muted drums, spooky, sparse guitar chords, and Rodriguez singing sultry lines such as "Tell me what gets you off/I don't mind if it's hard or soft." Touring companion Lucinda Williams adds vocals to "Mask of Moses," bringing her sense of drama and intensity to an already riveting tune with religious overtones that builds to a dynamic climax. Like most subtle albums, these songs don't jump out, preferring to float around your brain. Repeated spins result in the drifting melodies, introspective lyrics, and Burn's slow-burn production getting under your skin and taking hold. While not as immediately accessible as her debut, She Ain't Me reveals its charms slowly yet effectively, and is the better for it. ~ Hal Horowitz

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