Rodney Crowell – Close Ties
New West Records – 2017
Turning 67 this year, Rodney Crowell has been writing and recording, both in his own right and with the likes of Emmylou Harris, for 42 of those years, releasing 14 solo album and two with Harris and one with Mary Karr. Close Ties finds him in a very blues mood on a collection of autobiographical songs that chart his journey from a Texas childhood (such as swampy resonator guitar album opener East Texas Blues) to his early days in Nashville and his friends and lovers along the way.
Fingerpicked acoustic closer Nashville 1972 recalls his arrival as a greenhorn songwriter in Nashville, namechecking those who were also looking to make their mark, among them Richard Dobson, Johnny Rodriguez, Steve Earle, as well as old-school veterans such as Harlan Howard and Bob McGill. He also recalls palling up with Guy Clark, a connection that is echoed in the bluesy Life Without Susanna. The song is a reference to the girl that both he and Clark loved (and the latter married), the lyrics burning with the regret of how “As she withdrew I grew distant and judgmental, A self-sure bastard and a stubborn bitch, locked in a deadly game of chess.”
Both Life Without Susanna and the penultimate apocalyptic riff-driven Storm Warning (co-penned with Karr) with its hefty backing vocals and ringing, twangy guitar are the only time Crowell cranks things up, the music generally mirroring the reflective mood.
It Ain’t Over Yet is a simple shuffling rhythm acoustic number which, joined by ex-wife Rosanne Cash (their first recording together in over 20 years) and John Paul White, is a memory of and tribute to both her and Guy.
The piano ballad Forgive Me Annabelle is about another, unidentified, woman who figured in his life and eventually walked out on him because, as he muses, “Maybe I was out of line, but mostly I was out of touch. You lean on anger like a crutch, you’re bound to take a fall. No doubt I was slow to learn, I just couldn’t get the gist.”
Indeed, Crowell’s pretty scathing about his younger self, whether remembering puking up after playing some song to Willy Nelson at a party (Nashville 1972) or on the acoustic bluesy I Don’t Care Anymore which ridicules the “silver toe tips on my boots and a mullet head of hair all designed to walk into a room and make somebody stare” from the days of Diamonds and Dirt in what is, essentially, a song about realising the emptiness of fame (“I was better off before I tried to make myself a name”).
Elsewhere the romantic I’m Tied To Ya’ is a moody semi-acoustic, duet with Sheryl Crow, swathed in strings with a bluesy electric guitar solo midway, the string quartet also figuring on the melancholic gently rolling Forty Miles From Nowhere where the rural peace is tempered by the lonely isolation. Open and honest, apologetic and self-recriminatory, poignant and rich in the wisdom of hindsight and the years, these are, as Bruce Springsteen might put it, the ties that bind.
Out Now on New West Records