Photos: Elmore Magazine
On tour in support of her latest album, Lola, the Spanish/English nod to her heritage, Rodriguez and her on- and off-stage partner Luke Jacobs entertained the dinner crowd at Club Helsinki, the hippest Americana site since Woodstock’s storied Joyous Lake club became a T-shirt shop.
Rodriguez started out with a Spanish cancione on violin, accompanied by a Flamenco-style guitar by Jacobs on his Les Paul. I couldn’t imagine better relations with Mexico than that performance embodied, but we were only five minutes into the evening, with much more to come. Happily, Rodriguez (or occasionally Jacobs) introduced almost every song, explaining the genesis of the story, and sometimes translating more than the title for us Americanos who foolishly opted for French in high school.
Like Linda Ronstadt, Rodriguez has a rich familial history with Mexico and Mexican/Hispanic/border states music, and, like Ronstadt’s album Canciones de mi Padre, Lola is a tip of her hat to that heritage. Unlike Ronstadt, however, Rodriguez is an accomplished and prolific songwriter, and as a result, Rodriguez’s song selection may be short on the classic Spanish cannon (although she includes a few), but she more than makes up for it in genuine emotion and authentic family history on her own tunes.
The classic “Noche de Ronda,” for example, tells the tale of a spurned lover, begging the moon for answers; the song was covered by Javier Solis, who’s referenced in the (almost) title track, “I Dreamed I Was Lola Beltrán,” Beltrán and Solis being two legends of la cancion ranchera tradition. The kicker here, however, is that while Rodriguez was singing her heart out and playing violin on ”Noche,” Jacobs walked offstage halfway through. I muttered to three male friends nearby, “Just like a man: when the going gets tough…” and they laughed. None of us were laughing five minutes later, however, after Rodriguez blasted a tour de force Appalachian fiddle solo to end the song. This, folks, is what multiculturalism strives to achieve. Hell, it’s what most musicians strive to achieve.
Many of Rodriguez’s own songs refer to family or her own formative years, including “The West Side,” about growing up and going to school on the non-Hispanic west side of Austin’s Interstate 35, and interacting with other Latinos bused in from the east side.
In one of the last songs of the night, the familiar ”She Ain’t Me,” from her 2008 album of the same name, Rodriguez scolds a cheating lover, and it was on this song that the duo produced some of the best harmony of the night. Go figure.