[ Updated 2/26/20 to reflect Rodriguez's employment at WXXI ]
On the four-song EP "Chicory," released digitally on February 7, Rochester fiddle and dulcimer player Alyssa Rodriguez reminds us that the best folk music is tactile. You can hear the visceral nature of the instruments — the tension of the bow against the fiddle's strings, the hammering of the keys on the Swedish fiddle called the nyckelharpa, the pressure of fingertips against mandolin strings. The result is raw, sincere, and communal chamber music of great immediacy. These qualities are apparent from the opening moments of "Valentina's Waltz."
Rodriguez (who works as a television production assistant at WXXI, CITY's parent company) wrote these tunes to sound like they had been passed down from a bygone era, and she especially succeeds with "Zion Squirrel." But as a collection, "Chicory" is most effective in retaining late-18th century folk sensibilities while forging ahead with a fresh, modern perspective. The title track is a free-spirited and utterly charming anthem, in which Rodriguez chooses independence and self-empowerment rather than stake her sense of worth to a significant other: "Girl your heart and mind are worth it/ So go on and be free, free, free/ Go create and love and wander/ Be unpickable like chicory." Rodriguez gets subtle and skilled musical support from such local musicians as mandolinist Austin Wahl and upright bassist Ben Haravitch, who recorded, mixed and mastered the EP.