The Austin-born, Oberlin-trained musician—and daughter of the hard-living Texas songwriter-activist David Rodriguez—at one time aspired to be a great fiddler. Then she went on tour with Chip Taylor (who wrote “Wild Thing” and “Angel of the Morning”) and, under his wing, blossomed into a singer and a songwriter. The pair recorded three studio albums; Rodriguez released her first solo effort in 2006. Her latest, Love and Circumstance (Ninth Street Opus), is a collection of songs by others.
Why make a covers album now? There were a few songs that I had been doing in my live show for the last couple of years. Every night at the end of the show, someone would say, “Oh, I wanna buy the album that Spanish song is on.” I thought it would be great to record them, but I couldn’t ever figure out how they would fit.
Was one song a linchpin for the project? “When I Heard Gypsy Davy Sing”—that’s something my father sent me in an e-mail sometime last year. It was a rough recording—he sounded pretty tired or maybe drunk. It really touched me. A lot of this record is linked to family. “La Punalada Trapera” is my great-aunt’s song—she didn’t write it, but she recorded it forty years ago. And some of the other writers are people that I grew up with because of my father, like Townes Van Zandt and Lucinda Williams.
When you record someone else’s song, do you feel an obligation to change it? I feel an obligation to make it my own. I take the tune and play it at home over and over again until I almost forget that I didn’t write it. Like the Hank Williams song “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”—I don’t think I’d heard a recording of that for many years. I just played it to myself, and when I took it to [guitarist] Bill Frisell and we recorded