Rodney Crowell looks back on 'Close Ties'
Singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell takes aim at an easy target midway through his new album "Close Ties": himself.
On the song "I Don't Care Anymore," he rips into the young Rodney pictured on the cover of 1988's "Diamonds and Dirt," making fun of the "silver toe tips on my boots and a mullet head of hair."
"In one sense I have compassion for who I was at that particular time," said Crowell, 66, sitting at his kitchen table. "Like, 'You're insecure; you're trying to be as cool as Dwight Yoakam.' But from another perspective I look at it and go, 'Oh, boy. You're good material.' "
As its title suggests, the album's focus is the relationships Crowell has cultivated. In recent years, he's had to bury a number of his longtime friends and collaborators. "There seemed to be a rash of people I cared about who were passing... it was just part of the air I was breathing, which is kind of how I write," he explained.
Album highlight "It Ain't Over Yet," featuring guest vocals from Rosanne Cash and John Paul White, was written about the friendship he shared with Susanna and Guy Clark before their deaths in 2012 and 2016, respectively. "When Guy and I were younger, we were competitive in the best way possible. We just wanted to write good songs. Susanna would kick back with a cigarette (and say), 'Being an artist is about owning what's inside you. It's not a sport,' " remembered Crowell. "She was right."
As the new record began to coalesce, Crowell flipped through the dozens of poetry collections — by everyone from Rumi to Seamus Heaney — on his bookshelves, trying to find the right phrase to serve as the title "One day," he said, "it just came to me. I wrote down 'This is about close ties.' "
Nearly three decades since his commercial peak (the five consecutive chart-toppers of "Diamonds and Dirt"), Crowell's the best he's ever been. "Close Ties" is another link in a strong chain of pensive, narrative-driven Americana albums he's released beginning with 2001's "The Houston Kid."
The album is book-ended with songs named for the two towns Crowell has called home: it begins with "East Houston Blues" and ends with "Nashville 1972" a song about his early days in Music City with troubadours like Clark and Townes Van Zandt. "I think it's longing that brings artists to places like Nashville," said Crowell. "You long to create, long to be noticed and long to have some shot at immortality. In the long run, it's the relationships and the people you love.... Truthfully, 40 years pass in the blink of an eye, and at the same time, it's this long, winding path."
So what would Crowell say if he were ever face to face with his brash, silver-toed, mulleted younger self?
"I'd probably tell him it's going to be all right," he laughs. "It's going to be fun. You're going to screw up, you're going to make mistakes, you're going to get pompous, get an inflated ego and get it busted. You're going to fall, you're going to get back up and in the long run, it's all going to be good."
If you go: Rodney Crowell at 3rd and Lindsley, 8 p.m. Apr. 16, $18