Rodney Crowell – Close Ties
I’m not sure exactly when, but it was through reading a Johnny Cash biography that I made my introduction to Rodney Crowell.
The story goes that late one night as he first set out to date Cash’s daughter Roseanne, Crowell, under the influence of a few drinks, tried to impress his soon to be father-in-law.
Cash wasn’t having any of it and cut him short with the immortal line:
Son, I don’t know you well enough to miss you if you’re gone.
I would imagine that the passing of time and a healthy catalogue of 20+ albums and 5 consecutive no. 1 songs would have helped change Cash’s impression of the 57-year-old singer-songwriter.
The latest offering from Crowell, ‘Close Ties’, shows a heightened sense of awareness and underlines his ability as a five-star story-teller of the Americana genre.
‘East Houston Blues’ is a reference to a challenging childhood in his Texas hometown with perhaps more than a nod to his own mortality:
Just so you understand that of which I speak. I’m a worried man on a losing streak.
There are many references to his peers throughout – ‘Life Without Suzanna’ is a song about his close friend, and wife of Guy, Suzanna Clarke, along with the nods to Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson.
‘It Ain’t Over Yet’ is classic Crowell, albeit a collaboration with his ex-wife Roseanne Cash, where they both talk about relationships and where Crowell even sees fit to reference one of his previous hits from the 2003 release ‘Fate’s Right Hand’.
It ain’t over yet. Ask someone who ought to know. Not so very long ago we were both hung out to dry. It ain’t over yet. You can mark my word. I don’t care what you think you heard. We’re still learning how to fly. It ain’t over yet.
Not that you will know him, but my brother once described Crowell as “a great man for writing songs for other people to sing” – a polite way of complimenting Crowell’s songwriting ability over his voice.
Sometimes it can be hard to argue against that point of view but he more than makes up for it with his songwriting and ability as a player in songs like ‘I Don’t Care Anymore’ and ‘Forty Miles From Nowhere’.
From the biography his own website, Crowell seems more comfortable as a poet anyway.
I have declared my loyalty to Americana. It’s a hard category for people to get their heads around, or at least the terminology is. But all the people who represent it – Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and more recent stars like John Paul White and Jason Isbell – share a common thread, and that thread is poet. Whether they are actual poets or their music exemplifies a poetic sensibility, generally speaking, the Americana artist shuns commercial compromise in favor of a singular vision. Which resonates with me.
‘Close Ties’ is another great record from Rodney Crowell and one where you feel that he is coming to a time in his life where the songs are becoming more and more precious.