CD Review of She Ain’t Me by Carrie Rodriguez
Recommended if you like
Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, Suzanne Vega
Label
EMI/Back Porch
Carrie Rodriguez:
She Ain’t Me

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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iolin-playing rock stars have never exactly been common – Lili Haydn, that dude from Yellowcard, Ashley MacIsaac, and Robbie Steinhardt of Kansas would probably be the top names on a very short list – and famous fiddlers are in even shorter supply; the occasional left-field hit from someone like Charlie Daniels or maybe Mark O’Connor notwithstanding, it’s an instrument that has received short shrift during the rock era.

Enter Carrie Rodriguez, the Berklee-educated musician who came up the ranks as a duet partner with Chip Taylor on three well-received albums before striking out on her own with 2006’s Seven Angels on a Bicycle. Originally a violinist, Rodriguez started fiddling (heh) in college after picking up the technique from her roommate (and current budding newgrass sensation) Casey Driessen, and her instrumental skill – not to mention her lightly smoky vocals and striking good looks – were too formidable to keep her a supporting player for long.

Unfortunately, EMI and Back Porch seem to have decided that they’re also too formidable to keep Rodriguez from becoming a Norah Jones-sized superstar – at least, that’s the most likely explanation for She Ain’t Me, Rodriguez’ too-glossy sophomore effort. On paper, Ain’t looks like a step in the right direction – Rodriguez co-wrote all but one of the album’s 11 tracks, and it was produced by Malcolm Burn, the Lanois protégé who made some fine, offbeat records with Chris Whitley – but what comes out of the speakers largely misses the mark. On her debut, Rodriguez fronted a gnarly combo that included Bill Frisell and Greg Liesz; here, she collaborates with songwriters’ songwriters such as Dan Wilson and Gary Louris, and the results are every bit as tuneful and polite as you’d expect.

Carrie Rodriguez

Not to mention fiddle-deficient. Rodriguez leans most heavily on her guitar and mandolin skills here, which is her prerogative, but the few occasions when she pulls out the fiddle – particularly the coolly stuttering “Absence” – are the album’s undeniable highlights. The problem, when you get right down to it, is Rodriguez’ songs: they’re not bad, but they don’t often come anywhere near the heights scaled by her obvious influences, and without some sort of hook to pull the listener in, they tend to fade into the background. “Mask of Moses,” featuring some remarkably bland backing vocals from Lucinda Williams, is a perfect case in point.

It’s a shame, because when Rodriguez hits on all cylinders, she’s capable of producing solidly entertaining music, and She Ain’t Me hints at artistic energy and potential that it fails to exploit. It’s hard to begrudge her this swing for the fences – and if it nets her a few more fans, so much the better – but it’s even harder not to hope for an album that truly lets her personality shine. She Ain’t Me, indeed.

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