Carrie Rodriguez is a Texan singer-songwriter and violinist whose repertoire includes country, folk and rock, but is at her best when she explores her Mexican roots. Her great aunt Eva Garza, a Spanish-language singing star in the 1940s, inspired Rodriguez to “create my own blend of Tex-Mex music”. It’s a mix of classic Mexican songs, many slow and unashamedly emotional, and her own compositions, which are often in the ranchera tradition. The opener, Perfidia, shows how well Rodriguez has succeeded. She revives this tuneful, well-worn song of betrayal with pained, attacking vocals, helped by strong harmony work by Raul Malo and glorious twanging guitar by the great Bill Frisell. Elsewhere, there’s a powerful treatment of the 30s love song Noche de Ronda. Rodriguez’s compositions have a dash of country-blues and include a tribute to the ranchera star Lola Beltrán. This is a fresh, confident set.
The blues had long been a potent undercurrent in the Birthday Party's music, so it wasn't all that surprising that Nick Cave embraced the sound and feeling of rural blues on his second album with the Bad Seeds, The Firstborn Is Dead. What was startling was how well Cave and his bandmates – Barry Adamson, Mick Harvey, and Blixa Bargeld – were able to absorb and honor the influences of artists like Skip James and Charley Patton while creating a sound that was unmistakably their own. The moody obsessions of rural blues – trains, floods, imprisonment, sin, fear, and death – seemed made to order for Cave, and he was able to tap into the doomy iconography of this music with potent emotional force; on "Tupelo," he makes a sweeping and disturbing epic of the rain-swept night when Elvis Presley was born, and "Knocking on Joe" is a tale of life on the work gang that communicates the pain of the spirit as clearly as the ache of the body.
Like Junior Boys and the more experimental Telefon Tel Aviv just before them, Beacon have the shape and look of a post-punk synth pop duo like Soft Cell, Associates, and Eurythmics, and are part of that lineage while unmistakably inspired by contemporary R&B. The first EP from Brooklyn dwellers Thomas Mullarney III and Jacob Gossett, released in 2011 on the Ghostly International-affiliated Moodgadget label, even sampled a certain hit R&B single from 1997. With a 2012 EP on Ghostly proper also in the distance, they take a few steps forward with their first album, a subtle and richly detailed set of ballads that ache in a way that is seductive rather than despondent. Mullarney's vocals, hushed but expressive, are heart-on-sleeve in nature with a hint of devilishness. His lyrics take some unexpected turns, as on "Overseer," where the opening verse is made of heated slow jam material until a sour finish: "Isn't it fine taking it slow, watching you watch me…walk out the door." Romantic division is a constant theme of the album.