Album Review: Rodney Crowell — Tarpaper Sky

Juli Thanki | April 16th, 2014

rodneycrowelltarpaperskyRodney 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.

4.5 Stars

Preview or purchase Tarpaper Sky

  1. David Cantwell
    April 16, 2014 at 9:23 am

    I can’t wait to hear this, Juli. Just curious… When you say his best in more than a decade, I’m guessing you his best since my own favorite Crowell album, The Houston Kid, which I’d place even above Diamonds & Dirt. Is that right? And does this new record have a similar sound?

  2. Jonathan Pappalardo
    April 16, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Incredible album, exceptional review. Totally agree that this is his finest work in more than a decade.

  3. henry
    April 16, 2014 at 9:31 am

    He has a great story about “Fever on the Bayou,” which I’m sure he told you about how long the song was in the making and how he finally figured out how to finish it–almost 20 years later. Thanks for this beautiful review of a really terrific album.

  4. Juli Thanki
    April 16, 2014 at 9:33 am

    David, yep, I’d say it’s his best since The Houston Kid; though I think I like the songwriting on here more. “Flyboy” just slays me.

    The sound is a little more laid back on this one. I interviewed Rodney a couple weeks ago and he said something along the lines of how he’s “outgrown production,” which might have something to do with it, along with recording the album live, which gives it more of a performance vibe.

  5. Daniel Mullins
    April 16, 2014 at 10:24 am

    I agree 100%. This is definitely one of Croweel’s strongest albums. You can’t help but feel more confident about yourself and about life in general when listening to Tarpaper Sky.

    Do you know if “Grandma Loved That Old Man” was inspired by Rodney’s actual grandparents, or was it written about mythical archetype figures?

  6. Janice Brooks
    April 16, 2014 at 10:26 am

    got this album early this morning and added Frankie Please for now.

  7. Leeann Ward
    April 16, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    What a wonderful album. While The Outsider, Houston Kid and Fate’s Right Hand are still my favorite Crowell albums, this one is right up there with them. I liked the album even more the second time that I listened to it than the first. I love the production on most of the album. It’s relaxed, but not boring at all. My favorites are The Flyboy and the Kid and Oh What A Beautiful World. I also love The Long Journey Home, Fever on the Baiou, God I’m Missing You, and I Wouldn’t Be Me Without You.

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