Carrie Rodriguez + The Sacred Hearts. Lola.

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Carrie Rodriguez first came to prominence on her collaborations with Chip Taylor before delivering several solo albums, her vocals and fine fiddle playing along with some deft song writing planting her firmly into the Americana camp, Austin, Texas chapter. Lola finds Rodriguez firmly embracing her Mexican roots, abandoning dusty Texas ballads for a set of songs, some staples of the Mexican music scene and some written in that vernacular, delivered in English and Spanish, all set to a wonderful Latin infused sultriness.

Rodriguez was inspired by her great aunt, Eva Garza, a San Antonio born recording star of the 1940’s and set out to capture some of that era’s Chicana romanticism, much in the manner employed by Ry Cooder on his reimagining of Cuban ’50’s music on Mambo Sinuendo. Cooder wasn’t content to just recreate the sound of the times, imbuing his album with a modern gloss and so Rodriguez does here, her ace in the pack being the presence of Bill Frissell whose guitar playing throughout sparkles. Frissell is but one part of the band conjured up for this album and christened The Sacred Hearts (the other members being Viktor Krauss, bass; Luke Jacobs, pedal steel, guitars; David Pulkingham, guitars; Brannen temple, percussion). Raul Malo of The Mavericks sings on one song and Max Baca adds bajo sexto with Gina Chavez also adding some vocals. Throughout the album the playing is exemplary and producer Lee Townsend captures the ensemble perfectly, the melodramatic ’40’s passion balanced expertly with a modern clarity.

The die is cast from the opening swoon of Perfidia, written by Alberto Dominguez in 1939, it went on to be a big band standard when Glen Miller glossed it up. Rodriguez ditches the English translation singing in Spanish with Raul Malo in tow. The music is a sinuous (and sexy) mix of twangy guitars, languid rhythms and exotic language (at least for those of us stuck with basic Anglo Saxon grunts) and she repeats this throughout the album albeit offering some of the songs in English. The covers include Que Manura de Perder, a wonderful duet between Rodriguez and Jacobs, she is singing in Spanish, he in English, both dancing around the song. There’s the tango drama of Frio En El Alma and the deep nostalgia of Nocha De Ronda, a song that begs to have a lush video setting as Rodriguez inhabits the melodramatic posturing of the era. Written by Maria Teresa Lara, Nocha De Ronda is here given a performance that elevates it into the heights. A torch song, beautifully realised by the band, it conjures up images as disparate as Isabella Rossellini’s stained victim in Blue Velvet and the stark monochromatic vision of Mexico in Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil.

Rodriguez does well in her own writings, Llano Estacodo is a menacing stew of snarled guitars with a southern drawl while La Ultima Vez flows wonderfully. Z is a sassy slice of swampy blues and Cariocas lilts along with some tenderness and verve. She closes the album with a fine double whammy on an instrumental and then vocal take on Cuco Sanchez’ Si No Te Vas, the former stately and again reminiscent of Ry Cooder’s reclamation of this music, the latter, a wonderfully stripped down cantina type plea, Rodriguez giving it all.

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