Cedar Rapids, Iowa ( Tuesday, February 18, 2014)
“Winter and camping: those words should not be used in the same sentence”
“There was a considerable amount of bourbon involved.”
“I should hope so.”
If you wonder why it warmed up so quickly in Cedar Rapids, it could be because Carrie Rodriguez and Luke Jacobs came to town. Luke probably didn’t have much to do with the thaw: he’s from Minnesota, and so according to Carrie is like a fish in the water when the dreaded Polar Vortex wobbles south. The heat is pretty much all Carrie because her particular brand of Country/Folk is sultry, sizzling, soulful and seductive.
Carrie turned up the heat at CSPS Hall early on with “50’s French Movie”. Her vocal stylings combined with the lyrics like “What kind of part is this? When do we get to kiss? When do i take my clothes off? What kind of part is this?” would steam things up enough. Then Carrie added to the heat with some of the most seductive fiddle playing I have ever heard. The song is about a lover who isn’t quite what he’s supposed to be, oozing romantic disappointment and sexual frustration with every nuance of Carrie’s aching vocalization.
If “50’s French Movie” is sultry, “Devil in Mind” is sizzle. Playful and forthright, it’s a song that expresses a woman’s view of looking to have a good time without being treated like a man’s plaything. It’s seductive without being provocative. That’s the case with many of Carrie’s songs, and says much about her depth as a songwriter.
It’s hard to say which aspect of Carrie and Luke’s performance had me wishing myself a resident of the world her music creates. Her soulful side belies the impression that songs like “50’s French Movie” or “Devil in Mind” conjure up. “Get Back in Love” so tenderly and beautifully expresses a woman’s wish for the simple things men often overlook when it comes to romance, and salvaging a relationship, that I think it should be mandatory listening for any couple in need of marriage counseling.
Not all of Carrie’s songs are about love. She pays homage to friends with songs such as “7 Angels on a Bicycle” and “Lake Harriet”. If I mention a lot of songs here, it’s because Carrie played a lot of songs that were memorable. In fact, it’s hard for me to think of any part of the concert that couldn’t be considered a “high point”.
This is the second time I’ve seen Carrie perform live, and I’m still unable to decide whether she is a great singer who is also an outstanding fiddle player, or a great fiddle player who is an outstanding singer. It was interesting to hear her tell of how she really didn’t take up singing until she was in her twenties. Most of us would have to have started voice training in our teens to develop the vocal chops she has. Some people just get all the right musical DNA. Harrumph!
Anyway, about that fiddle playing. That’s the seductive part. Carrie can, and did, ably play some traditional country/bluegrass/folk style fiddle. Her skill shone brightly during a solo turn playing a medley of traditional songs that would have had me thinking two people were playing if I weren’t watching her perform live. Yet, she contrasts that ability at traditional country fiddle playing with the licks and solos she throws into her own songs. There’s a sensuality in how she plays that makes me think that when Charlie Daniels sang about the devil playing the fiddle, he was unknowingly referring to Carrie Rodriguez.
Carrie’s current partner Luke Jacobs is a strong talent as a singer, musician and songwriter in his own right. Maybe it’s because he’s from Minnesota, be he offers a bit of cool to contrast with Carrie’s sizzle. His accompaniment on acoustic, electric and lap steel guitar all were spot on in helping create the mood of each song. He and Carrie play off each other like a musical version of a couple that is so close they complete each other’s sentences. Watching them together sometimes left me feeling like they’d forgotten about the audience and were playing strictly for each other. That’s a good thing, because it lets the audience in on a degree of musical intimacy that can be missing in a lot of live performances.
I especially liked the duet Luke penned after watching the opera “Faust”. At the end of the 3 ½ hour opera, he decided it would make a good country song, and tell the same story in 3 ½ minutes. The result was “Margarete”. As much as opera fans might cringe at the thought, Luke was right. He did present the entire 5 act story of Gounod’s “Faust” in less than 4 minutes of straightforward country music goodness. That’s what makes for a good songwriter, the ability to express in a few chords, verses and a chorus something most people might take hours to say.
Luke has that talent, and his songs and his playing mesh perfectly with Carrie’s. Even though their current tour is billed as “Rodriguez and Jacobs” Luke has no trouble with not only letting Carrie shine, but puts extra effort into making sure she shines as brightly as she does.
Carrie Rodriguez is a favorite at CSPS Hall, and has appeared several times. The audience called for, and received 2 encores. At the end of the show, Carrie and Luke were the first ones out the door and ready to greet people and sign autographs. It’s always great to see performers who are so genuinely eager to meet their fans.