Rodriguez spreads her wings on solo CD

Originally Published on: 2007-05-30

By Alan Sculley
For the Call

At first glance, it’s easy to wonder just how much different “Seven Angels on a Bicycle,” the solo debut CD from Carrie Rodriguez, is from the three duo albums she made with Chip Taylor.

Taylor’s fingerprints, after all, are all over “Seven Angels on a Bicycle.” He wrote seven of the CD’s 12 tracks and co-wrote four others with Rodriguez. Taylor also co-produced the album with Rodriguez, who plays at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room next week as part of the four-day Twangfest Festival.

But listening to “Seven Angels on a Bicycle” it’s clear this CD is notably different from her albums with Taylor — “Let’s Leave This Town” (2002), “The Trouble With Humans” (2003) and “Red Dog Tracks” (2004).

To be sure, the country/Americana roots of those duo albums still are present on “Seven Angels on a Bicycle.” But not only is Taylor’s singing absent, there is a palatable atmosphere — a smoky, almost eerie mood — that hasn’t inhabited the duo albums.

On songs such as “Dirty Leather,” “He Ain’t Jesus” and “Big Kiss,” Rodriguez’s vocals are placed in a spare setting, as gentle drums, chimes of guitar and occasional fills from slide guitar offer restrained support and help create the atmospheric mix.

In fact, the CD’s primary upbeat moments come from songs that stay closest to country, including the rousing “Never Gonna Be Your Bride” and the chunkier “I Don’t Want to Play House Anymore.”

It’s not just the sound of the songs, though, that separates “Seven Angels on a Bicycle” from the duet albums. The contrasts began with the songs — including those Taylor wrote on his own.

“It was different,” Rodriguez said. “Be-fore, we would sort of let the songs evolve together. Like we would take a song in its raw form and play through it together for a month. We were working on arrangements and things like that. On my record, a lot of times he would show me songs and I would take the ones that I thought might fit me and take them home and develop them myself, rather than with him.

“They did kind of take on a different feel,” she said. “Another reason is I don’t play the guitar. So he would give me a tune, and I’d take it home and I’d have to figure out a way to work on it without a guitar, which meant my fiddle. I would just strum my fiddle or do different kinds of picking patterns. That ended up being the core of a lot of these songs.”

The other thing that was starkly different about the recording sessions was her state of mind.

Shortly before work on the album began, one of her best friends, Andy Morgan, was killed while riding his bicycle in New York City, where Rodriguez — an Austin, Texas, native — now makes her home with husband, saxophone player Javier Vercher.

Rodriguez said the loss of Morgan filtered into the mood of “Seven Angels on a Bicycle,” whose title song refers to Morgan’s untimely accident.

“There were a lot of emotions surrounding the whole process of writing songs and recording,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like that dictated the direction and the sound. It really was kind of a mourning sort of process when we were working on it.”

This tragedy has been one of the few reasons for sadness in Rodriguez’s life in recent years. In fact, her arrival on the national music scene has a bit of fairy-tale good fortune to it. In 2001, she played a gig with the band Hayseed at an Austin record store, Cheapo Discs, during the South By Southwest Music Conference.

Taylor saw that performance and approached Rodriguez about joining his band to play fiddle. Gradually, Rodriguez moved from band member into the role of musical partner, after Taylor asked her to sing with him — something Rodriguez had never done in performance.

“I don’t know what it was that made him (Taylor) think I would be any good at singing,” she said with a laugh. “But for whatever reason he asked me to try and immediately thought he heard something that he wanted to hear more of.”

These days, Rodriguez’s voice has be-come a compelling and expressive instrument — and one that takes center stage in her live show. Her current tour finds her joined by guitarist Hans Holzen and bassist Kyle Kegerreis, and in this format Rodriguez, who actually is playing a good deal of electric mandolin live, said the songs from “Seven Angels on a Bicycle” are evolving in this setting.

“The guys (who played) on my record are some of my heroes, Bill Frisell (guitar) and Greg Leisz (pedal steel, lap steel, dobro) and Viktor Krauss (bass), all of them, are all people I’ve been listening to for years,” Rodriguez said. “My band feels the same way. They look up to these guys. So it’s been fun to be inspired by what they did on the record and then try to make it our own.”

Carrie Rodriguez plays Thursday, June 7, at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room, 6504 Delmar Blvd., as part of the annual Twangfest Festival. Other acts on the bill are Blue Mountain, Tim Easton and Two Car Garage. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show cost $20.