Go to the MySpace page of Texas-to-New York transplant Carrie Rodriguez and you'll hear "'50s French Movie," an artful, sexy piece of half-talk about a young woman attracted to a mysterious guy. The basic metaphor — "You're a fifties French movie/
With possibilities endless/You could render me helpless/But you don't even whisper my name" — is sharp, and the bluesy drive recalls Lucinda Williams. There's a wide-open space for a young female artist to take Williams's style as a starting point and split off from it. Rodriguez has toured with Williams, and at first she sounds as if she's quite consciously trying to become Williams's heir.
The Williams influence shows up in other songs on Rodriguez's debut album, Seven
Angels on a Bicycle: some of them have Williams's combination of dark, rather impressionistic portraits with blues-rock backing, and "I Don't Want to Play House Anymore" has the intense, stressed quality of Williams's forays into straight country. But half the album doesn't sound like Williams at all, and this half has built a buzz around the undeniably fetching young Texan.
Rodriguez studied jazz and progressive bluegrass at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and started out as a fiddler with Austin local hero Chip Taylor, best known for composing both "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning" (talk about commercial instincts). Taylor wrote "'50s French Movie" and some of the other music on Seven Angels on a Bicycle, and as the album's producer he had a hand in shaping its unique sound — which might be called minimalist country. Rodriguez plucks her fiddle as much as she bows it, interacting with sparse guitar or lap steel and spectral bass and percussion.
And she steps in front of this low-light background with a persona that's often out-and-out sexual. ("What you smilin' at?" Rodriguez sings in "Dirty Leather." "Ain't you touched one of these before?") This has been missing from Americana music for the most part — Lucinda has tended to pick up pen after the fun's over and the relationship has turned sour. Seven Angels on a Bicycle has more than its share of make-out songs like "Big Kiss." Rodriguez doesn't quite have the voice to pull off the sultriness with maximum effect, at least not yet. But she's onto something rootsy and sophisticated at the same time.
Rodriguez has been touring with a trio that should be able to realize a compact version of the instrumentally subtle late-night Americana heard on her album. She comes to the Ark on Thursday, July 5.
[Review published July 2007]