After spending a half-hour on the phone with Carrie Rodriguez, an interesting though unexpected career trajectory came into view. Without intending to, the conversation regimented itself into sections detailing the contributions of four inspirational figures that have helped guide her bright Americana music.
First, she talked about Lee Townsend, the famed California producer that has overseen her last three albums. The conversation then turned to Luke Jacobs, the multi-instrumentalist that will her accompany Rodriguez for her return concert at Natasha’s on Thursday. In discussing the development of her musical voice, the talk centered on songwriter Chip Taylor, who essentially discovered Rodriguez. And in closing, the Austin, Tx.-based fiddler, songwriter and vocalist reflected upon a recent tour where she placed her own music on hold to play backup for actor/singer Jeff Bridges.
You could almost add a fourth figure into the interview – the man indirectly responsible for her first gig of 2013.
“Our first show is at the Texas Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball in Washington, DC.,” Rodriguez said. “It’s an inauguration party for President Obama, so that will be a fun kickoff.”
First up is Townsend, the producer of Rodriguez’s new Give Me All You Got album as well as its two predecessors. Noted for his work with the pioneering guitarist Bill Frisell among others, Townsend sets tunes with folk, bluegrass and even R&B overtones within light and live-sounding frameworks.
“Lee is a very laid back guy,” Rodriguez said. “He is California through and through having lived in the Bay Area for 30 years. Before he got into the music business, he studied psychology, which is really helpful as a producer because he is so good at making all the musicians, including myself, feel at ease.
“Lee encourages us all to do what we do best. I’ve seen him work with Bill Frisell and it’s really a special talent that Lee has to sort of direct without letting the artist feel like they’re being directed.”
Jacobs has been Rodriguez’s bandmate for years and has become increasingly visible on her recordings. The pair co-wrote some of the strongest material on Give Me All You Got, including Tragic and the album-closing I Don’t Mind Waiting. Jacobs will serve as Rodriguez’s lone accompanist at her Natasha’s show.
“Luke and I have been out on the road together for the last couple of years, so a lot of the songs were pretty well worked out because we had been playing them live. That’s really a luxury.
“We currently perform as a duo – a duo with a lot of gear. Luke plays lap steel guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, harmonica; I’ve got electric mandolin, fiddle and tenor guitar. We even have a portable record player that we’re going to be spinning some records from before the show starts.”
Give Me All You Got also sports several songs written or co-written by Taylor, the mentoring songsmith best known for the ‘60s hits Wild Thing and Angel of the Morning. Taylor discovered Rodriguez at Austin’s SXSW conference in 2001 and introduced her to national audiences through a series of duet albums and tours
“I had no interest in even being a singer before I met Chip,” Rodriguez said. “I had never tried it, except for maybe in the car with the windows rolled up. No, I spent the young part of my life working on the violin, first in classical music and then studying different fiddle styles. My goal in life was to get a gig with someone like Chip Taylor as a sideman.
“Today, it’s hard to even put into words how much he has affected my musical life. I think it’s taken getting away from working with him a little bit to fully appreciate that.”
And then there is The Dude. Prior to completing Give Me All You Got, Rodriguez was asked, upon recommendation by T Bone Burnett, to complete a series of concert dates with Bridges. True to his character credo of “The Dudes abides” in the Coen Brothers classic The Big Lebowski, Bridges dubbed his band The Abiders.
“That was so cool,” Rodriguez said of the experience. “Jeff Bridges is just one of the most down to earth people I’ve ever met. It’s amazing that someone with that kind of fame can be such a regular guy.
“To start that tour off, we went out to his Montana ranch for a few days to rehearse and get to know him, his lifestyle and just the whole vibe before we went out on the road. He’s just like The Dude, only a bit more responsible.”
Carrie Rodriguez with Luke Jacobs perform at 8 tonight at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Warren Byrom will open.Tickets are $15. Call (859) 259-2754 or go to www.beetnik.com