Carrie Rodriguez knows all about living in a man's world. The sultry singer-songwriter has been hanging with the opposite sex ever since she was discovered by Chip Taylor at Austin's South By Southwest in 2001.
Being one of the boys doesn't seem to be a problem, though, for the constantly moving Rodriguez, who is back on the road this April promoting her third studio solo album. A calm but comforting collection of covers, Love and Circumstance was released April 13 by her new label (Ninth Street Opus, which is offering a free MP3 download of Rodriguez's opening cut, "Big Love," for a limited time).
Just a little more than a month ago, the classically trained violinist turned fiery fiddler (who also plays electric mandolin and tenor guitar), served as a supporting sister figure on the Acoustic Brotherhood Tour. As the lone woman appearing on the same stage with a Tex-Mex mix of machismo that included Alejandro Escovedo and Los Lonely Boys, Rodriguez was well-received during a short but sweet warm-up set March 1 at the Boulder Theater in Colorado.
That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Rodriguez's career. A tireless, gracious and versatile performer, this tenderhearted temptress from Texas is known for ably assisting other groups, whether she's opening or closing a show. As a headliner on a bill with Romantica in 2009, she welcomed the Minneapolis band onstage at the Soiled Dove in Denver (see the No Depression review). On a 2008 tour with the headlining Escovedo that included a September stop at Denver's Bluebird Theater, she proved to be the most valuable performer, nimbly handling double duties. Even in Boulder, she joined Escovedo (left, with Rodriguez) for his entire set, then came out for furious fiddle blasts on Los Lonely Boys encores of "Beast of Burden" and "Heaven."
Accompanied hours earlier by Romantica guitarist Luke Jacobs (right), Rodriguez touched on material from her three studio albums (there's also 2009's Live in Louisville). The version of 2008's "She Ain't Me," which she co-wrote with Dan Wilson (Semisonic), was updated, livelier than the mid-tempo cut on the album of the same name. And she went from a sex kitten purring on "50's French Movie," to a defiant diva on "Never Gonna Be Your Bride," both from her 2006 solo debut Seven Angels on a Bicycle.
The full house in Boulder also got a sneak preview of Love and Circumstance, an album of 12 solid selections from an all-star list of singer-songwriters (again, mostly men) that includes the past -- Hank Williams ("I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"), Townes Van Zandt ("Rex's Blues") -- and present -- Richard Thompson (an exquisite "Waltzing's for Dreamers") and M. Ward (an effectively chipper "Eyes on the Prize").
Just like on the CD, Rodriguez opened the show on guitar with "Big Love," John Hiatt's formidable number that he co-wrote and performed with Little Village mates Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner in 1992.
Among those playing on this album are C-Rod's impressive touring band -- "Handsome" Hans Holzen (guitars), Kyle Kegerreis (bass) and Eric Platz (drums) -- and special guests, including Bill Frisell (guitars), Buddy Miller (background vocals) and Greg Leisz (pedal steel and slide guitars).
Love and Circumstance isn't totally lost in the male, though. Aoife O'Donovan, another accomplished artist who was a guest performer on She Ain't Me, is back again. If you can't wait to hear her luscious vocals with nu-grass quintet Crooked Still on their dreamy Some Strange Country (to be released June 1), listen for her elegant harmonies on five of these tracks, including Lucinda Williams' "Steal Your Love."
Rodriguez, who firmly believes there's a need for roots in roots music, also includes "When I heard Gypsy Davy Sing," a song written by her father, folk singer David Rodriguez, a Texas native. And as a fitting tribute to her family, C-Rod also pours her heart into Love and Circumstance's final number, which also closed her seven-song set in Boulder.
"I know that one thing Alejandro and Los Lonely Boys and I all have in common is that we come from musical families and we come from Texas ... not a bad place to be from," Rodriguez told the Boulder crowd. "I had a great-aunt, my father's aunt, who was a wonderful ballad singer; her name was Eva Garza; she started recording in the late '30s for Columbia."
The Spanish song Garza popularized in the 1950s -- "La Punalada Trapera" -- is one Rodriguez often plays in concert, and she has received numerous requests to record it. "It's sort of a deadly love song, really," she added, about a "a backstabber, a traitor."
Usually sounding delicate and demur on record, Rodriguez turned into a full-blown, passionate chica on "La Punalada Trapera," eliciting whoops, hollers and whistles from an adoring audience in Boulder.
"She's my new favorite person," one lovesick male announced loud enough for everyone alongside him in the second row -- including his wife -- to hear, apparently none too shy to reveal the latest object of his affection.
Pulling at the heartstrings, Rodriguez has that affect on many not-so-secret admirers. A gentle but sly seductress, she rarely has to play second fiddle to anyone.