Album Review: Rodney Crowell — Tarpaper Sky
Rodney Crowell’s newest record was four years in the making: after recording half a dozen songs in 2010, he got distracted by two stellar side projects: Kin, a collection of songs written with noted author Mary Karr, and last year’s Grammy-winning Old Yellow Moon, a duets record with Emmylou Harris. But Tarpaper Sky, the best solo album Crowell has made in more than a decade, is worth the wait.
Recorded live to tape in the studio, Tarpaper Sky finds Crowell working with guitarist Steuart Smith, bassist Michael Rhodes, and drummer Eddie Bayers, the same musicians with whom he recorded his breakout album, Diamonds & Dirt, in 1988. However, Tarpaper Sky isn’t an attempt to recapture that ‘80s sound; instead, it showcases the artist Crowell, now 63, has become: more introspective and more relaxed, yet still able to tear into his share of roadhouse rockers. The result is an album that feels as creased and comfortable as a favorite pair of boots.
Crowell covers a wide swath of the roots music map here, from the Cajun-tinged “Fever on the Bayou” – complete with a verse in Franglais — to the understated weeper “God, I’m Missing You,” which was originally recorded by Lucinda Williams for Kin.
From there, he struts through barroom boogie of “Somebody’s Shadow,” which features pounding piano and saxophone and the blistering “Frankie Please,” which boasts the best opening lyric of any song released this year: “You tore through my life like a tornado looking for a trailer park.”
But Tarpaper Sky is at its best when Crowell is most reflective, as he is on the sweet waltz “I Wouldn’t Be Me Without You” and “The Flyboy and the Kid,” a flawless song written for Crowell’s longtime friend and mentor Guy Clark. The latter song recalls Dylan’s “Forever Young” as Crowell wishes, “May the wind be at your back and the world sit at your feet / May you waltz across Wyoming with a rose clutched in your teeth / May the answers to your questions fall like raindrops right on cue / May you set up shop in heaven ‘fore the devil knows you’re due.”
From there, Crowell celebrates the small things in life on the record’s final song “Oh, What a Beautiful World,” a folky Americana tune that echoes album opener “The Long Journey Home,” on which Crowell declares, “The simple life tastes sweeter now.” On Tarpaper Sky, it sounds sweeter, too.
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