Carrie Rodriguez brings stripped-down sound to Artisphere in Arlington


Carrie Rodriguez performs in the Dome Theater at Artisphere in Arlington. (Josh Sisk/For The Washington Post)
January 26

Carrie Rodriguez, the Austin-based singer-songwriter and virtuoso violinist, put on a clinic of minimalism Saturday night in Arlington.

Inside the pin-drop quiet of Artisphere’s Dome Theatre, every sound seemed to convey sonic significance. Finger-snapping could suffice as percussion. Harmonizing with the singer-guitarist Luke Jacobs, Rodriguez safely dipped into an almost-whisper without fear of being drowned out by extraneous stage noise or audience chatter. “Come find me in your dreams,” she sang in the sultry invitation of “I Don’t Mind Waiting,” over Jacobs’s muted guitar chords. Add to this acoustic environment certain architectural features — the theater’s planetarium-like ceiling and steeply angled, vertigo-inducing seating arrangement — and you could be forgiven for imagining you’d died and met Patsy Cline in the afterlife.

But Rodriguez’s palette isn’t all pleasant dreams and fluffy clouds. It’s clear she has mined nearly every substratum of American roots music, every ethno-musicological cross-pollination of her native Texas. Jacobs quickly traded an acoustic guitar for a dirt-and-reverb-laden electric. “ ’50s French Movie” was a steamy three-chord stomp, with Rodriguez taunting an “aimless” someone to get to the point: “When do we get to kiss? / When do I take my clothes off? / What kind of part is this?”

Rodriguez is fresh off a live collaboration with guitarists Bill Frisell and Buddy Miller at New York’s Lincoln Center, where the trio revived the Ur-country-and-western sounds recorded in Bristol, Tenn., in 1927. She shared a couple of selections from that set on Saturday — traditional instrumental fiddle tunes that, in a different setting, would have been the soundtrack to a flatfoot dance.

Trained at such elite institutions as the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Berklee College of Music, Rodriguez, with her by turns fluttery and dissonant trills, is a formidable soloist, seemingly equally at ease with classical European melodies and rural American ones.

The spartan musical approach of the Rodriguez-Jacobs duo was, at times, a hurdle impossible to overcome. “Sad Joy,” for example, was written in a modern pop idiom — but you couldn’t tell that from the spare instrumentation. Perhaps realizing these limits, Rodriguez and Jacobs retooled the tune as an Everly Brothers-inspired vehicle for tight harmony vocals.

More often, though, the pair made a virtue of necessity. On “Get Back in Love” and “Seven Angels on a Bicycle,” for example, Rodriguez played a four-string tenor guitar and Jacobs sat down with a lap steel guitar running through a delay processor. The effect was lushly cinematic.

Jacobs, it should be noted, proved a compelling presence in his own right. He sang a few numbers from his catalogue, each of them (“Providence and Mystery,” “Oh God”) marked in some way by the experience of growing up in a conservative Protestant household. Amusingly, he explained that “Margarete” was a boiled-down, country-western take on Goethe’s deal-with-the-devil tale “Faust.”

Rodriguez closed out with a particularly heartfelt and leaned-into Spanish-language rendition of the waltz-timed “La Punalada Trapera” — that is, “the treacherous back-stab.” The sentiment, she joked, was a “warm” parting thought for a town enduring a January cold snap.

Galupo is a freelance writer.

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