Despite news of another mass shooting in Texas, there are also great things emerging from the Lone Star State—such as the Texas Troubadours tour, which is taking Carrie Rodriguez, Ruthie Foster, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore to the West Coast this week. When the three walk out onto the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts’ stage, they’ll be representing the new Texas, where an African-American singer-guitarist, a Chicana songwriter and fiddler, and an old white cowboy can happily coexist.
It probably doesn’t hurt that the cowboy’s a Buddhist.
“We were rehearsing the other day and Jimmie actually said ‘Man, we don’t even have to sing anything. We just have to walk out on-stage and we’re making a statement,’ ” Rodriguez tells the Straight from her Austin home. “So it’s great—and also, musically, we’re having a great time finding the commonalities and figuring out how to play on each other’s songs, because we are all quite different.”
But maybe not that different, external trappings aside. “All three of us probably share some feelings of being an outsider, in certain ways, and that comes through in our songs,” she adds. “So we find common ground in that.”
For B.C. audiences, Rodriguez is probably the unknown quantity in this triple-threat concert package. The deeply soulful and often quite political Foster has long been a local favourite, thanks to regular Vancouver Folk Music Festival and Rogue Folk Club appearances. The 72-year-old Gilmore is part of the same generation that produced legends like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, not to mention his bandmates in the Flatlanders, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock. Despite having seven solo releases to her name, Rodriguez is a relative newcomer—and even she admits that she didn’t really come into her stride until she released Lola, in 2016.
“I don’t know if I was ever 100 percent myself until I made Lola,” she explains. “I mean, I’m proud of my body of work, but I think I’m just finally finding something that’s honest to who I am, and how I grew up, and what I grew up listening to.”
It’s not just that Lola marks the first time that she’s sung, on record, in Spanish. It’s more that she’s fully embraced her family’s musical heritage: not only is her dad, David Rodriguez, a fine songwriter in his own right, her great-aunt, Eva Garza, was an acclaimed singer and actor during the 1940s and ’50s.
“She was in Mexican films and had gold records, and she was a family legend,” Rodriguez says. “My grandmother talked about her often when I was growing up—‘Oh, my famous sister Eva! She knew all the movie stars!’ So I never took her that seriously until I was in my early 20s and actually got a recording of her music. I was completely blown away, and since then I’ve wanted to share her legacy.”
Singing in Spanish apparently calls for a more open and emotional approach. “Sometimes it’s not pretty,” she notes. “Sometimes I’m singing these deadly Spanish love songs, and there’s parts that are raw.”
That approach works just as well for Rodriguez’s own songs—especially those, like Lola’s tough-but-tender “Llano Estacado”, that read as news bulletins from America’s contested southern frontier.
“When I was writing those songs, we were getting many Central American kids and mothers coming through illegally, and they were all being held in these huge detention centres—and this was pre-Trump,” she reports. “So the songs are even more current now, even more relevant. It’s bizarre.
“It’s all out in the open now, and it’s ugly,” she adds. “But I think getting it all out is the only way to move forward.”
Carrie Rodriguez, Ruthie Foster, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore play the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC on Wednesday (November 8).