Rodney Crowell

John Paul White (Civil Wars) – “Rodney has a way with me. He keeps me hanging on every word, every turn of phrase, every revelatory, honest, self deprecating and hopeful utterance. There are few lyrical poets that blow my skirt up like this guy. This record is no exception: each and every song is heartfelt, biting, insightful and needed.”

Rodney Crowell launched his solo career after playing guitar in Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band and later, in 1988 became the first country artist in history to have five No1# hits off one album, 1988’s classic, Diamonds & Dirt.

Fifteen luminous studio albums later, new offering, Close Ties is deeply personal for Crowell: The record features songs he penned about his Texas upbringing and his start as a Nashville songwriter, as well as tracks that pay homage to friends and former lovers.

“A few years ago, I made a record called The Houston Kid that triggered Chinaberry Sidewalks,” Crowell explains in a press release, referring to his exceptional 2011 memoir. “Those memory muscles are pretty strong in me. They have a natural pull and so many of these songs use those memories as raw material.”

So it is that Close Ties spans many decades, many scenarios, lovers and friends and even many Rodneys if you listen to him talk about it, as he did to Peter Cooper recently in Nashville.

“I pretty much just wrote the songs as they happen. I cannot write any song that I have an intellectual investment in. The best songs are the ones that find a pathway to my heart and eventually filter through to my feeble brain…after that I have the skills and the craft to bring it together. Melodies come pretty easy to me – I’m a melodious cat apparently!

“What I do do, is I spend an enormous amount of time on language, words, words, words – revision, revision, revision.”

“My mantra has always been that if you’re patient enough and you keep your skills sharpened enough to be worthy of inspiration, work at it every day and cultivate patience – I have to allow the song to tell me what it wants to be. Some songs I’ve written over twenty years like that.”

‘Fever on the Bayou’ on this album, Will Jennings and I started that in about 1975.

Opening track ‘East Houston Blues’ is a result of the enduring impact of Crowell’s childhood and he quotes Hank Williams as being the soundtrack of those formative years on a tinny little record player. He said he considered Hank was Blues but later found his version was removed from the many shades of blues and that he’d developed his own idiom from that original influence – it had infected his bloodstream. Crowell has said this immersion in exploring the essence of blues irrevocably informed his musical narrative.

‘Life Without Susanna’ is a product of the loss of Guy Clark’s wife and the complicated relationships emanating from their unconventional coupledom.

“Susanna was constantly amused from her older, smarter, superior perspective of seeing me for a man as young and unformed as I was – 22 when we all first met. She was my first woman friend and she taught me how to have real friendships with women. She was a true poet.”

…read the rest in Issue 84