New West Records
Deeply Personal Stories of Life, Love and Friends.
Rodney Crowell has a new album coming out……BUY IT! What more do you need to know?
Oh; you want to know a bit more about the content, do you? Alright then….here goes.
Rodney Crowell divides opinion at RMHQ, as Mrs. Magpie still goes weak at the knees listening to those early albums by the handsome young man with the curly hair and chiselled cheekbones; whereas I love and adore his later more reflective albums; now that his hair is more ‘salt and pepper’ and his voice gravelly and emotional.
On the surface Rodney Crowell has had a wonderful life; happily married, lovely family and a career that shows no signs of fading; but like most of us of now a certain vintage; close friends have illnesses and many die; leaving us with memories, both good and bad.
If I’m any judge of character that’s where CLOSE TIES begins; and as any songwriter worth his salt knows; there’s always a song in misery.
The album opens with East Houston Blues; featuring Tommy Emmanuel playing some mean guitar then through a pained voice details a boy from a fractured childhood in the poor part of town where the lad ‘learned to drink and drive when I was 12’ before embarking on a life of minor and unsuccessful crime. Presumably it’s not autobiographical, but the detail in and between the lines is astonishing and proves what a great songwriter Rodney is.
Next song Reckless takes my breath away every time I hear it. One of the more simpler arrangements here, the singer sounds as sad as a man can be, as he tells two stories at once. One is of a man living a wild Reckless life but he also has a guilty streak a mile wide running down his back, because ‘you were watching from a distant star.’ Crowell’s way with words has always been undervalued in my opinion; but songs like this prove he is up there with the Masters.
There certainly aren’t many laughs here; but why would there be? This is a man looking at his life and reflecting on his many mistakes; but realising how lucky he has been too……something I can associate with all the way.
Some songs are from his vivid imagination and others are from his colourful life, and all are very near the bone. I’ve certainly had days when I Don’t Care Any More could be my very own theme tune and the single It Ain’t Over Yet featuring Crowell’s ex-wife Roseanne Cash and John Paul White is the type of ‘fighting song’ that gets many of us with ‘rickety legs and watery eyes’ wish we could have written ourselves; but thankfully Rodney has and we can sing along to the chorus with arthritically clenched fists. Plus I’m as lucky as the narrator because I too have someone who takes the Roseanne Cash role of ‘all forgiving Angel’ …….and when she sings ‘No you don’t walk on water/and your sarcasm stings’ I felt that the song really was about me; and you will too. Honestly; this is one of the finest songs you will hear this year.
There are ten songs here and any one could be my ‘favourite song’ in fact they all are; but I will narrow it down to two…..both dark bittersweet love songs.
Forgive Me Annabelle finds Crowell begging forgiveness from a former lover and has some top-quality lines from start to finish; ‘You lean on anger like a crutch’, ‘We both knew how far from grace I fell’ and ‘When you walked out on me/it tore my heart in half/and I hid behind a laugh’. Come on; when did you last hear a song with lyrics half as powerful as those?
But I’m choosing the song about Crowell’s best friends wife as the Winner.
Forty years or more ago two of my favourite rock songs Layla and Something were about the same woman, Pattie Boyd; and now I feel the same way about Guy Clark’s My Favourite Picture of You and Life Without Susanna on this album. Both are about Clark’s late wife who was the heart and muse in the infamous gang that included Crowell, Clark, Earle, Van Zandt and a host of others who invented this thing we call Americana.
I’m not sure ‘unrequited love’ describes a relationship between ‘A self-sure bastard and stubborn bitch’ but the way Crowell describes the effect her debilitating illness and eventual death is truly heartbreaking; and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anything so raw and yet beautiful before.
The album isn’t anywhere near as bleak as my words sound; and the closing song Nashville 1972 is a four minute opus that encompasses a period in musical history that helped define Crowell’s life and my record collection. In lesser hands it could sound like ‘name dropping’ when Crowell talks about his friend named Guy and the innumerable singers, poets, tightrope walkers and more drifted through their house; but Rodney turns it all into musical poetry.
It’s difficult to compare CLOSE TIES to Rodney’s previous albums; even the latter ones as this is ‘different’ and ‘different’ in a very good, personal and intimate way; and it just may be his very best ….only time will tell, but it’s not been off my player for a whole week.
RELEASED 31st March 2017