There had to be some trepidation when 15 years into her career, Carrie Rodriguez decidedly emphasized her Latina heritage and incorporated several Spanish songs on her latest record. The Texas-born Rodriguez didn't grow up speaking Spanish (she picked it up from her ex-husband). Seven previous solo releases (two were live) and her early career collaboration with songwriter Chip Taylor, a Spanish-infused album seemed, well, foreign to an older audience comfortable with her fiddling and alt.-country songs sung in English.
The reward was well worth the risk for music fans. Time will write whether this is a turning point for the 37-year-old Rodriguez, who recently remarried and is a new mother and has a new record, laced with English, Spanish and Spanglish - so unique!
Featuring a crack band including bassist Viktor Krauss and guitarist Bill Frisell, husband Lee Jacobs' production easily travels the territory between Texas and Mexican country. It's such a smooth blending of talents that you'd never know it's Raul Malo's distinctive vocals gracing the lilting "Perfidia" unless you checked the liner notes.
Her Spanish is appealing, especially on the traditional "No Te Vas." But her Spanglish is warm and inviting, from the autobiographical Spanglish country tune "Z" - apparently based on the spelling of her last name - to the weepy ballad "Caricias" to the dreamy "I Dreamed I Was Lola Beltran."
Still, Rodriguez is at her best lyrically when planted firmly in folk. "Llano Estacado" tells the story of a Mexican family that lives in fear of being deported while "The West Side" - another semi-autobiographical song - is sung in English as a child ponders the unfair reality of being a Latino bused to the rich elementary school where "the moms are pretty, and the dads are cool."
It's a shock and a shame, really, that there isn't a richer vein of Latinas in country music. It's a tragically short list, but it's not a stretch to say that with "Lola" Rodriguez now stands alongside Tish Hinojosa and Linda Ronstadt as Latina folk-country's gold standard.