April 17, 2007

Rodriguez schedules, Mofro sparks Thunder, Brother Ali gets revenge

Carrie RodriguezCarrie Rodriguez, who’ll be at the Brown Theatre Tuesday, picks up the phone from Texas. The singer-fiddler is nearly out of breath from rushing around, and she’s musing aloud about whether her manager will ever put a break in the schedule. How many musicians would kill to have such problems? There are the tour dates that now continue through spring after the acclaim for last year’s debut solo CD Seven Angels on a Bicycle. And, as she confirms, I’m not the only one who can’t wait to hear her next recordings. But first, she says, she has to get back home (which is now Greenpoint, Brooklyn), which is where she’s got to be to write.“I’m hoping to get enough time off during the summer to get material ready, then record in the fall for release in early 2008.”Between now and summer, though, is the opportunity to play a series of concerts with headliner Lucinda Williams, who added a glowing recommendation for Rodriguez into a feature in The New York Times (“I detect a certain wisdom in her, and yet a sense of wonder as well”).Last year’s album featured country-rock and singer-songwriter confessional folk-pop blended with non-flashy, intriguing and fulfilling elements of jazz and bluegrass. Throughout, Rodriguez sang with shades of calm strength and real-world sensuality (such as “’50s French Movie,” which owes much to Williams’ style).Did anyone say that Angels included too much experimenting?“I bet a few people have, though they didn’t tell me,” she says. “I just made a record with my favorite musicians — like Bill Frisell.” And her husband Javier Vercher, who added sax on several tracks. Professionally, Rodriguez grew up with Chip Taylor, the Texas singer-songwriter responsible for classics like “Wild Thing.”“I got a gig right out of college to play fiddle for him. Gradually, he asked me if I’d do some background singing. Then he asked if I’d sing a duet onstage with him. And we went on to do three duet records.”Besides a guided introduction to touring, Taylor provided mentoring and collaboration on the very mature songwriting on Angels. “He understands economy of words … and I love those kinds of songs,” she adds.It was also Taylor who sent his good friend Lucinda Williams a copy of the record. And as the gigs with Williams start up, Rodriguez is having a great time pushing her band’s onstage style. “Live, I’ve been rocking out. Songs have a … ‘crispier’ sound, if I can say that. I’ve got a new instrument — it’s called a mandobird. It’s an electric mandolin with four strings instead of eight. Otherwise it’s just like a mandolin, tuned the same as a violin. But it’s electric, and I run it through these pedals. Lately, I’ve enjoyed getting weird sounds when I play.”Rodriguez, with strong and intelligent rootsy pop and some weird sounds, opens for Williams (whose new album West is likewise a strong set that stretches boundaries) at the Brown Theatre (315 W. Broadway, 584-7777) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets are $35-$50.•••J.J. GreyJ.J. Grey has two wildly contrasting appearances on Saturday. At 1 p.m., it’s an in-store at ear X-tacy (1534 Bardstown Road, 452-1799). But come evening, the intimacy of a makeshift stage inside a record emporium gives way to the Overlook Deck at Slugger Field. There, Grey and his band Mofro are featured in a concert at 7 p.m. (Backyard Tire Fire opens) in what amounts to a warm-up for Thunder Over Louisville at 9:30 p.m. Slugger Field includes prime views for the fireworks show. But when it comes to indoor venues vs. outdoor festival-style affairs, Grey says, “Musically, it isn’t different to us.” Mofro’s new album Country Ghetto includes 12 originals that tightly swing between blues, rock, gospel and some alt-country, sometimes several together in a single track (read a CD review on page 38). Grey and the band show exquisite taste in details, like adding organ to shift mood on a song’s bridge or having a backup choir reinforce the sweep of a reflective or hopeful lyrical crescendo.Brother AliBesides Grey’s evocative voice, the uniting element is the guitar — but this isn’t repetitive swamp-boogie at all. Grey says he understands the appeal of stripping down to the basics even as he chooses to give the audience more: “We all want to seek familiarity. Like on a date or a night with friends, the night’s great. Then when you go out again, you feel pressure to recreate what was, in fact, done on a whim.”Country Ghetto opens with a sharp burst dealing with “War.” Grey wasn’t focused solely on today’s headlines when he wrote it. (“Bill Hicks, he said we’re all waging war against something.”) That song is sure to be a concert highlight, and another might come from Grey’s cover choices. He’s a bit coy but admits he might pull out “Tupelo Honey.” Van Morrison’s mystical, sweet-swaying classic is in great hands with the now-expanded Mofro touring band (a small horn section is added to the four-piece lineup that had toured relentlessly for the past three years). Entry to this concert is based on purchasing a ticket for watching Thunder from Slugger Field, and those start around $10-$15. Call 212-2287.•••Brother Ali’s back with a vengeance, but he’s looking for justice and peace ahead of revenge. This albino, Midwestern Muslim raps with persuasion and respect but also ferocity, in front of finely mixed and tuned tracks. His new Rhymesayers disc The Undisputed Truth features a veritable running argument — civilly disobedient — with the current state of the U.S. government. But the man’s got plenty more on his mind, including passionate concerns regarding children. He’s appearing with a boatload of other hip-hop artists (including Psalm One, Toki Wright, The Treez) Tuesday at Uncle Pleasant’s (2126 S. Preston St., 634-4147). Doors at 7:30 p.m., tickets are $10. Before that, he’s got an in-store at ear X-tacy at 5 p.m. •••Spouse frontman Jose Ayerve says the geographical challenges cannot stop the band’s organic recording and playing style.SPouseRelocation Tactics, named for Ayerve’s love affair with both of his hometowns — Portland, Maine, and Northampton, Mass. — was recorded in a barn/studio in the Berkshire Mountains, and happens to be the same studio where Nina Simone and James Taylor recorded.It suits the band, whose members live in different cities but gather in different configurations to record and write.“We record on location,” Ayerve says. “For instance, we will find a space that we can record in, or sometimes, if we only have a certain period of time, we’ll hole ourselves up in someone’s apartment and do it that way.”To hear the fruits of that session, Spouse will make its first trip to Louisville at 8 p.m. on Monday at the Comedy Caravan (1250 Bardstown Road, 459-0022). Tickets for the 18-and-over show are still available. Tyrone Cotton opens. Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com