Rodney Crowell’s new album release hits on several themes
I first heard Rodney Crowell in 1978 shortly after the release of his debut LP, “Ain’t Living Long Like This.” I was already familiar with the title track and “Leaving Louisiana In the Broad Daylight,” songs that were recorded by Emmylou Harris when Crowell was part of Harris’ Hot Band from 1975 to 1977.
However, the song that stuck out to me was Crowell’s “Song For the Life,” with this opening verse:
“I don’t drink as much as I ought to.
Lately it just ain’t my style.
The hard times don’t hurt like they used to.
They pass quicker like when I was a child.”
There wasn’t a song on that record that I didn’t like a lot. To show the respect Crowell had garnered, the LP included guest appearances by Harris, Nicolette Larson, Ricky Skaggs, Ry Cooder, Dr. John and Willie Nelson. Add to that the fact that four of the five Crowell songs have been covered more than once, making it easy to see the talent and potential.
Since 1978, Crowell has released 13 solo records as well as two duet recordings with Emmylou Harris and one with Mary Karr. He also married and divorced Rosanne Cash as well as play on and produce three of Cash’s most popular releases, “Right or Wrong,” “Seven Year Ache” and “King’s Record Shop.” At one time or another I owned all of those records. Crowell’s most important and possibly best-selling record, “Diamonds and Dirt,” was released in 1988, the year we opened Triple Play. We played it often, along with “King’s Record Shop,” as those two very influential and classic country-rock recordings became staples at the store. They still are today.
Between 1989 and 1994 Crowell released four good records. Unfortunately, none of them came close to the success of “Diamonds and Dirt,” and he took a five-year hiatus. Due to poor sales of his most recent recordings, no major label would record Crowell. Like his old friend Guy Clark, he moved to Sugar Hill Records for his comeback recording in 2001. The autobiographical “The Houston Kid,” in my opinion, is the best record Crowell has made. It reinforced the fact that Crowell is one of the great songwriters of his generation. Proving that “The Houston Kid” was no fluke, Crowell has released five great solo recordings as well as the three aforementioned duet recordings since then.
This all leads to Crowell’s latest recording, “Close Ties,” released last Friday on CD and LP on New West Records. Semi-autobiographical as well as current, it could be “The Houston Kid” Part 2. It is that good! “Close Ties” opens with “East Houston Blues,” an acoustic blues tune about growing up in tough East Houston. There is loss and grief in “Life Without Susanna,” reflection in “Forty Miles from Nowhere,” and concern in the rocking “Storm Warning.” “Nashville 1972” is about when Crowell first went to Nashville and befriended Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. “It Ain’t Over Yet” with Rosanne Cash and John Paul White is a sentimental tear jerker (for me) about an aging singer-songwriter who has been through a lot of ups and downs in his 66 years but still has much more to give.
“And somehow I’ve learned how to listen
For a sound like the sun going down
In the magic that morning is bringing
There’s a song for the life I have found
It keeps my feet on the ground”
— Rodney Crowell from “Song For the Life”