Not everybody's gonna spell your name right, honey
Might get it wrong on the grand marquee…
Tell country music where to put the Z.
I love a good anti-Nashville anthem. And I especially love this one, “Z,” from a self-described “half-gringa, half-Chicana, fiddle-playing Rodriguez.” It's a rollicking honky-tonk song, underscored by a message of perseverance (“Doors are gonna open if you want them to / But you might have to knock 'em down”), and it fits my mood these days.
My introduction to Carrie Rodriguez came a few years ago through her cover of the Hank Williams classic, “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.” I've enjoyed the Americana sounds on her records for the past decade. But until Lola came out a few months ago, I hadn't heard the ranchera side of her. I was acquainted, somewhat superficially, with ranchera and with the singing of Lola Beltrán, for whom this record is named. The title track, “I Dreamed I Was Lola Beltrán” (“I dreamed I was Lola Beltrán / And you were Javier Solís”), was inspired by the great-aunt of Carrie Rodriguez, Eva Garza, a less well known ranchera singer and actress in the 1950s. On this record, Rodriguez addresses a number of classic ranchera tunes including “Perfidia” and “Si No Te Vas.” I love the takes here on Lola, but I also love that these tracks sent me scrambling not only for the old recordings by Beltrán and Garza, but also the rancheras of Chevala Vargas, Cuco Sánchez, and others.
Yet it is the songwriting of Rodriguez herself that draws me back to the present. “The West Side” tells of a divided Austin where Rodriguez grew up. “La Última Vez,” with both English and Spanish lyrics, tells of a broken relationship, kicking off with the killer line: “You don't like the way I say your name / Well I wish I had mine back.” And “Llano Estacado” has tells a haunting story of the Texas plains:
La Migra [Immigration] came to town today
They closed the plant and took her dad away
Oh Martha and little brother hid
And Mama cried like a little kid
Rodriguez herself is a phenomenal violinist, and the record is further enhanced by the instrumental virtuosity of Max Baca, Bill Frisell, and Victor Krauss. Everyone works together to support the word pictures, the stories, and the historical context of these songs.
Hard hitting original songs and striking takes on classics wrapped up in a message of perseverance and hope have made Lola my favorite album of 2016. It's a bonus that this record has led me to explore traditional ranchera music and contemporary Texas politics. And whether it takes other listeners in the same directions is beside the point. Regardless of one's knowledge of Lola Beltrán and Javier Solís, this offering from Carrie Rodriguez stands on its own. - Greg Harness