A bilingual country album that works just as well track-by-track as it does an album. Absolutely phenomenal.
Lola opens with one of three songs sung entirely in Spanish — one of four songs that are entirely monolingual — and closes with the same. Rodriguez referred to Lola in interviews as a “TexMex” album, which is true insofar as it is sung throughout in admixed Spanish and English, but that framing is key; listening to Lola, the first and final is the former, not the latter.
Which is part of why songs like “Z” and “The West Side” (the latter the aforementioned English exclusive) hit so hard; when Rodriguez sings in English, it is always fraught with Othering. And that’s used with all the ambivalence that lived experience demands; in “Z,” for instance, she ventroloquizes her grandmother in the chorus, saying,
“Not everybody’s gonna spell your name right honey
Might get it wrong on the grand marquee,
But you can just sing ‘em a song, hija mia,
Tell country music where to put the ‘Z’”
“The West Side” is even more blunt: “You are welcome here, but remember dear / that you are different in every way.” It’s, at least in the first quarter of 2016, not easy to find an honest appraisal of race in country music; on the one hand are the Dickinson’s with their anxiety of influence, on the other the Upchurch’s with their, well.
There is a reading of the chorus of “Z” that sees it as vindictive, but something about how it rocks the drums mixed with the way the guitar loves its single slow strum, sustained, that makes the whole thing sound unambiguously like a good time. Which in turn makes the argument a little more nuanced; “Z” is as much a song about how visibility on its own is at best worthless against microaggressions, at best only an exacerbator.
The worst thing I can think to say of Lola is that it might be a bit heavy on ballads for some. It’s a milquetoast criticism, given how important the sense of space is to the album; that “TexMex” means country and ranchero rhythms mixed together as much as it does the two languages, and the result is that it has plenty of space to stretch its legs. The slower songs might not be as immediately gratifying as something like “Z,” but they contribute to and capitalize on the whole aesthetic.
On the other hand, though: Lola is an incredible, incredible album, that I can’t recommend highly enough.