I’ve really pretty much had it with covers records — those of you who follow me on Twitter may have recently experienced my raging disdain for Marc Cohn’s upcoming exercise in laziness — but even I have to admit that not all of them are created equal, and very, very few of them boast pedigrees as stellar as Carrie Rodriguez’s Love and Circumstance. Rodriguez herself is no slouch, and I happen to think she actually excels when she’s interpreting others’ material — and here, she’s not only joined by an ace band that includes Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz, but she cherry-picks from some spectacular songbooks, including John Hiatt (the Little Village cut “Big Love”), Lucinda Williams (“Steal Your Love”), and Townes Van Zandt (“Rex’s Blues”).
The result is a collection that, while it certainly doesn’t break any artistic ground, does a wonderful job of paying tribute to some of roots rock’s leading lights. The band is marvelous, as you’d expect, and Rodriguez’s vocals have the sweetness and fine texture of dark honey. In fact, she damn near makes these songs her own; if you aren’t familiar with the originals, you’d never suspect their disparate origins, and even if you loved these songs the first time around, you’ll be hard-pressed to deny that Rodriguez does right by them. Looking at the album artwork, you might be tempted to dismiss her as purely a pretty face, but don’t be fooled — the ever-so-slightly burred edges of her voice hint at a spiritual depth beyond her 32 years, and musically, Love and Circumstance has more to offer than your typical covers project. Just listen to the tangled knots of guitar that unspool in “Punalada Trapera,” and you’ll understand that this is a labor of love, not a lazy holding pattern between “real” albums.