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Rodney Crowell

Tuesday

Sep 19, 2017 – 8:00 PM

33 West Street
Annapolis, MD 21401 Map

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Rodney Crowell has been doing this for a while. In fact, his career has been so long and varied that you have to specify exactly which this youre talking about. Theres the record-making, which dates back to 1978 (when he released Aint Living Long Like This), peaked commercially a decade later (with Diamonds & Dirt, which yielded five number-one country hits), and has only grown in sophistication and power in recent years. Theres the fiercely lyrical and personal songwriting, which has attracted the attention of everyone from Bob Seger (who famously covered "Shame On the Moon") to Keith Urban (who had a number-one hit with "Making Memories of Us"). And then theres the autobiographical writing, which extends beyond the music world to a memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks, which was published in 2011.Now theres a new album, Close Ties, on which Crowell both demonstrates his strengths as a songwriter and illustrates how he has learned to balance personal recollection, literary sophistication, and his profound musical reach. Its at once his most intimate record and his most accessible, the product of years of understanding the ways songs can enterand be entered bylife. "Its a loose concept album, you could say," Crowell says. "And the concept is related to how you tell stories about yourself. Having a few years ago written a memoir, my sensibilities toward narrativeespecially trying to find a common thread in different pieces of writinghad become a part of my songwriting process. One of the reasons I brought Kim Buie in as a producer is that I wanted her to work with me the way an editor works, to look at a number of songs and find the ones that worked together to create a tone."Close Ties is a roots record, in the sense that Crowell himself has deep roots that stretch back into the alternative country scene of the early seventies. But is defies easy classification. Is it country? Is it a songwriter record? Does art need categories? "Well," Crowell says, "when I was a quote-unquote country star for my fifteen minutes of major fame, I hated the label. I bristled at it and got myself in trouble. I would go around to radio stations and that early morning drive-time, chirpy optimism, and I would come across as grumpy. They knew my mind wasnt in the right place. I was an interloper in that world. I didnt fit it. It soon spit me out. In hindsight, it should have: I was no asset to their goal, which was to satisfy their advertisers."On the other hand, the rise of Americana music struck a nerve with him. "I have declared my loyalty to Americana. Its a hard category for people to get their heads around, or at least the terminology is. But all the people who represent itTownes van Zandt, Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and more recent stars like John Paul White and Jason Isbellshare a common thread, and that thread is poet. Whether they are actual poets or their music exemplifies a poetic sensibility, generally speaking, the Americana artist shuns commercial compromise in favor of a singular vision. Which resonates with me."One trait of a poet, Crowell explains, involves the careful handling of memory. "A few years ago I made a record called The Houston Kid that triggered Chinaberry Sidewalks," he says. "Those memory muscles are pretty strong in me. They have a natural pull. And so many of these songs use those memories as raw material." They range from songs about Crowells childhood in Texas ("East Houston Blues") to songs about arriving in Nashville as a young songwriter ("Nashville 1972") to songs about friends (the anguished "Life Without Susanna") and lovers (the rueful "Forgive Me, Annabelle"). "Its not always autobiographical memory," he says. "Theres fictional writing involved in it, too. But its all about thinking through the places that Ive been, and how I might use them as backdrop for reflection. In East Houston Blues, for example, Im talking about the place where I grew up. Central Houston is broken into wards. The Fifth Ward is where Lightnin Hopkins came from. The Third is where I come from. Traditionally, the third ward was home to the poor white population, and the song doesnt shy away from that: it talks about poverty and petty crime but also communicates the joy of music." In the simmering "I Dont Care Anymore," he reflects ruefully on his current self-confidence ("I dont care anymore / if I stand out in a crowd") but only in contrast with earlier incarnations of himself. "That song is based on sketching who I was at my commercial peak, when I had five number one records," he says. "I had a mullet and I was trying to strut my ass around and make the girls buy my records. I look back on that with some bemusement and a certain amount of sarcasm. I pick on the work more than I should, maybe. In the song, the guy is writing middle-of-the-road songs. Thats not exactly autobiographical. But its the feeling of not being completely honest to yourself.""It Aint Over Yet," a vocal collaboration with his ex-wife Rosanne Cash and John Paul White, addresses how the passage of time can burnish love. "I dont care what you think you heard / Were still learning how to fly," he sings, and Cash answers with "Ive known you forever and ever its true / If you came by it easy you wouldnt be you." The record also features a duet with Sheryl Crow on the haunting "Im Tied To Ya." The wisdom of women is never far from Crowells mind, either in song or in life. "If you follow my path I think it was there from the start," he says. "Susanna Clark, who was married to the songwriter Guy Clark, became a very close friend when I was in my early 20s. We werent lovers and in fact she offered me more than that. She was this incredibly intelligent, creative woman---and my first ever muse. In my quest to please her artistically, I became a realized songwriter. The same goes for Emmylou Harris whose natural grace has impacted my life since 1975. Then there was my partnership with Rosanne Cash. The marriage ended but from time to time the musical collaboration goes on. My wife now, Claudia, offers the gift of stability to both my personal and professional endeavors. And with four daughters and two grand daughters, my corner of the world is populated by formidable women."As he moves into elder-statesman territory, Crowell continues to extend the path carved out by the top-tier songwriters who preceded him. "All are so important," he said. "Bob Dylan would of course be an archetype, as would Neil Young, Johnny Cash, John Lennon. Every time they release work I find something in it." He would add a name to the pantheon. "Kris Kristofferson belongs in there, too. He personifies all that intelligence and emotional vulnerability and magnetism. I spoke about him at Austin City Limits and said he changed the face of Nashville, and hes continued to give us deeply meaningful work like This Old Road."Fifty years after Crowell first started playing as a teen in Houston garage bands, he still believes in the power of songs, and the responsibility of singing them. "The interesting thing about that garage band back then is that we would go from I Saw Her Standing There by the Beatles to Honky Tonkin by Hank Williams. In southeast Texas those songs fit side by side. Drinkin Wine Spo-de-o-dee went right next to Crossroads by Cream. That was the beauty of it, that all of that existed side by side." Crowell finds himself going back to that music, but also going even earlier. "Recently, I thinkI hopethat my study of the blues is starting to show up in my music. Those artists, whether its Lightnin Hopkins or John Lee Hooker or the acoustic Delta players, connected to something fundamental. With that in mind, Im trying to move forward but also get back there."
$45.00
rodney crowell: While Rodney Crowell first gained widespread recognition as a leader of the new traditionalist movement of the mid-'80s, he in fact was a singer, songwriter, and producer with roots and ambitions extending far beyond the movement's parameters. Born to a musical family on August 7, 1950, in Houston, TX, Crowell formed his first band, the Arbitrators, while in high school, and in 1972 moved to Nashville to become a professional musician. There, he struck up friendships with singer/songwriters Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark.

Crowell's first big break came while he was performing as a lounge singer, where one of his acoustic sets was heard by Jerry Reed. Crowell's own "You Can't Keep Me Here in Tennessee" caught the ear of Reed and his manager, and two days later Reed recorded the song after signing Crowell to his publishing company. In 1975, Crowell moved to Los Angeles to join Emmylou Harris' Hot Band as a guitarist, and soon became one of her primary songwriters; among the Crowell compositions Harris first popularized were "Till I Gain Control Again," "Ain't Livin' Long Like This," "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight," and "Bluebird Wine." In 1977, Crowell exited the Hot Band to form his own group, the Cherry Bombs, and in 1978 released his first album, Ain't Living Long Like This; surprisingly, given that he had built his growing reputation as a songwriter, his first two minor hits -- "Elvira" and "(Now and Then, There's) A Fool Such as I" -- were both covers.

Also in 1978, Crowell began producing tracks for the album Right or Wrong, the American debut from singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash; around the time of the record's 1979 release, he and Cash married. In between recording his own 1980 sophomore record, But What Will the Neighbors Think, and producing Cash's commercial breakthrough Seven Year Ache, Crowell's songwriting career took full flight when "Leavin' Louisiana in the Broad Daylight" hit number one for the Oak Ridge Boys in 1980. Among his other significant compositions were "Till I Gain Control Again" (a number one for Crystal Gayle in 1983), "Shame on the Moon" (a Top Five pop hit for Bob Seger in 1982), "Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper's Dream)" (a 1984 number one for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), and "Somewhere Tonight" (a number one in 1987 for Highway 101).

In 1980, Crowell issued his own first hit, "Ashes by Now," which was a Top 40 pop crossover success; the follow-up, "Stars on the Water," was popular with both pop and country listeners. In 1981, he issued his third LP, a self-titled effort which was not commercially successful; when a fourth effort was rejected by his label, he turned his energies to writing and producing, most significantly helming Cash's 1987 masterpiece King's Record Shop. At Cash's urging, Crowell reignited his performing career in 1986 with the acclaimed Street Language, an eclectic effort co-produced by Memphis soul legend Booker T. Jones.

In 1988, Crowell finally broke through commercially with Diamonds & Dirt, a record which generated an unbroken string of five number one singles with "It's Such a Small World" (a duet with Cash), "I Couldn't Leave You If I Tried," "She's Crazy for Leavin'" (co-written by Guy Clark), "After All This Time," and "Above and Beyond." Keys to the Highway was also highly successful.

Crowell and Cash divorced in 1991, prompting both artists to document their marriage's dissolution with starkly confessional albums; Crowell's 1992 Life Is Messy featured guests Steve Winwood and Linda Ronstadt. Switching to MCA Records for Let the Picture Paint Itself in 1994, he followed with Jewel of the South the next year. In 1997, he formed the Cicadas with longtime backup musicians Steuart Smith, Michael Rhodes, and Vince Santoro. He married singer Claudia Church in 1998, and in 1999 wrote her country chart debut, "'What's the Matter with You Baby." Crowell issued his first album since 1995, The Houston Kid, in 2001. Continuing in the autobiographical vein of that record, he released Fate's Right Hand in 2003, followed by The Outsider in 2005 and Sex and Gasoline in 2008. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide

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