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Rodney Crowell reigns at Texas Union Theater

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By John T. Davis

Editor’s note: This article was originally published June 13, 2014

Every once in awhile, you get a perfect moment:

“Hey, Rodney!” someone called out during the last portion of Rodney Crowell’s show at the Texas Union Theater on Thursday night. “Can you play a couple of extra songs? It’s a frog-strangler out there.”

“It’s a what?” said the Houston-born singer-songwriter.

“It’s raining really hard!”

“Well, you need it, don’t you?” said Crowell, whereupon, without missing a beat, he went spur-of-the-moment into his tune “I Wish It Would Rain.”

Crowell’s show had plenty of memorable moments before that little bit of serendipity. It was the first night of a three-week acoustic run featuring himself and two dynamic, fleet-fingered guitarists, and Crowell was stretching his legs. Beginning his set with “Dancin’ Circles Round the Sun” from “The Outsider,” one of the string of revelatory albums Crowell has been ginning out for over a decade, he followed that tune with a new one paying tribute to the late artist and songwriter Susanna Clark.

Crowell threw in a few other unrecorded songs, a lagniappe for fans who came to enjoy latter-day Crowell classics such as “Telephone Road,” “Sex and Gasoline” and “Wandering Boy.”

Throughout, guitarists and harmony vocalists Will Kimbrough and Jedd Hughes sparkled, contributing licks and solos that were by turns earthy, quicksilver fast, down-and-dirty bluesy and offhandedly virtuosic. With Crowell on rhythm, they had all the dynamics of a rock band and all the warmth of an acoustic trio.

Crowell devoted most of the second half of his set to songs from his latest album, “Tarpaper Sky.” Tunes such as “Jesus Talk to Mama,” a sly attempt to get the Lord to put the fix in before the wayward son’s arrival; “Fever on the Bayou,” a gently swinging Cajun love song; the rocking, motor-mouthed “Frankie Please”; and “Somebody’s Shadow” — with the wonderful line, “I can’t get over how she shed me like a tear” — all testified to Crowell’s enduring touch with an ear-tugging melody and a heartfelt, introspective lyric.

Will Kimbrough, who opened the show, might have had the best line of the night, however, talking about how a fool for love followed his heart’s fortunes “from Yazoo City to Timbuktu.”

As the storm raged outside, Crowell wrapped things up with a sing-along of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” and an encore of one of his loveliest songs, a lesser-known gem called “Jewel of the South;” It made for a tranquil and lyrical moment on a tempestuous night.