Release Date: Apr 15, 2014
Record label: New West
Even before he started tagging along with Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark in the early '70s, before he joined Emmylou Harris' Hot Band on rhythm guitar, before he and Vince Gill founded the Cherry Bombs, before he worked with (and then married) Rosanne Cash, and before he emerged as a bona fide country star in the late '80s, Rodney Crowell was a top-shelf songwriter. His earliest compositions — "Bluebird Wine," "Till I Gain Control Again" — were instant classics, and became modern standards before the end of the 1970s. Revered by his peers, Crowell's work has been passed around and covered by everyone from Bob Seger to Crystal Gayle to Waylon Jennings to Johnny Cash to Blue Rodeo.
On last year’s Grammy-winning 2013 collaboration with old employer Emmylou Harris, Old Yellow Moon, Crowell rolled back the years to touch base with the bygone country sound both singers embraced in The Hot Band. Tarpaper Sky can be seen as an extension of that album: less introspective or autobiographical as Crowell’s recent solo work, and more a broader celebration of country’s many hues. Sky-punching prairie passion is the order of the day on the anthemic Long Journey Home, and there are equally rich geographical evocations on Fever On The Bayou.
Rodney Crowell's last two offerings have been collaborative albums. First was 2011's Kin, an uneven collection written and recorded with novelist Mary Karr; 2013's Old Yellow Moon marked his reunion with Emmylou Harris. It was a decent record, but steeped in nostalgia rather than fresh energy. Tarpaper Sky is a no-nonsense collection of Crowell songs unrestricted by concept, played by the core band from 1988's Diamonds & Dirt--guitarist Steuart Smith, drummer Eddie Bayers and bassist Michael Rhodes--as well friends.
Americana master, songwriter du jour, strikes while iron is hot…Hot on the heels of a Grammy win for Old Yellow Moon, his collaboration with Emmylou Harris, the ever-prolific Rodney Crowell starts here to inch away from the memoir style dominating his solo output throughout the ‘oughts’ (starting with 2001’s The Houston Kid). Rather, Tarpaper Sky brings Crowell full circle of sorts, back to his 1970s/1980s prominence as a stylistic wizard, an auteur, a seamless, affecting roots-rock-Americana jack-of-all-trades. Zigzagging through a wide range of moods and settings, reunited with erstwhile Eagles guitarist Steuart Smith, Crowell here is the consummate professional, hewing toward write-to-order yet none the worse for wear: 1950s-style tearjerker balladry (“I Wouldn’t Be Me Without You”), inspiring visions of a retro cover by, say, Ernest Tubb or Ray Price; Cajun homage, borrowing from the ancient as dirt “Jole Blon” riff for the insidiously catchy “Fever on the Bayou”.
With a few exceptions, the country music establishment doesn’t have a lot of reverence for the old guard, and yesterday’s hit-maker is, well, yesterday’s hit-maker. Rodney Crowell spent his share of time in the upper reaches of the country charts in the 1970s and ’80s, on his own and with songs other artists recorded, including Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings and then-wife Rosanne Cash. By the ’90s, though, acts like Shania Twain and Tim McGraw were dominating mainstream country, and two of Crowell’s three albums that decade failed to chart.
Working your way to legendary status as a singer/songwriter might be a marathon as opposed to a sprint. But Rodney Crowell blew out of the blocks awfully strong with songs that remain staples, written and recorded back in the mid-70s such as the immortal “’Til I Gain Control Again” (recorded by Emmylou Harris and Waylon Jennings, among many others) and “Ain’t Living Long Like This. ” But things really exploded in his career after 1988’s Diamonds & Dirt yielded five hit singles and boosted Crowell into the country stratosphere.
In the pantheon of esteemed singer-songwriters, Rodney Crowell certainly takes a place front and center. Having written certified classics like, “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”, “Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”, and “Till I Gain Control Again” entitles him a bit of royalty status, and the immense commercial success of 1988’s career-defining Diamonds & Dirt album ensured that Crowell’s name would always be a viable one when it came to the attention of the Music Row tastemakers. Interestingly though, his writing has not been limited to country appeal.
A remarkably rapid follow-up to Old Yellow Moon, his award-winning, much lauded collaboration with Emmylou Harris, Tarpaper Sky finds Crowell yet again emphasizing the superior songwriting skills that have been his stock in trade since the very beginning. After all, Crowell’s always been best when he’s mining homespun emotion, and here he injects that bare-bone sentiment into both ballads and rockabilly-style rave-ups with results that are awe-inspiring to say the least. Looking back over Crowell’s career, it’s hardly surprising that a man whose material has been covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Keith Urban, Bob Seger and Etta James should be so adept.
Rodney Crowell Tarpaper Sky (New West) Sidetracked by two exceptional collaborations, 2012's Mary Karr co-write Kin and last year's Emmylou Harris duet Old Yellow Moon, Rodney Crowell again reunites with the band that helped him realize his first breakout via 1988's Diamonds & Dirt. Tarpaper Sky proves that the Houston Kid in his 60s remains as vital as ever, balancing ballads and bar room stomps, both cut with his characteristic sense of autobiographical detail and precarious mortality. Opening on the anthemic "The Long Journey Home," the LP segues effortlessly into joyous "Fever on the Bayou" and raucous "Frankie Please.