Top 10 Americana Albums of the Decade: #7 – Fate’s Right Hand by Rodney Crowell
I don’t know if it’s possible to fully love an album without having actually heard it. If it is, then that is exactly what happened with me with Rodney Crowell’s 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand.
On Father’s Day in 2003, I drove to Charleston, West Virginia for a taping of The Mountain Stage radio program. This trip was made fairly early in my discovery phase of Americana music, and I attended the show primarily to see Kasey Chambers. Kasey was great, but I also left the performance as a fan of several of the other acts on the bill as well. One of those acts was Rodney Crowell.
Rodney was in Charleston to promote his new (as yet unreleased) album, Fate’s Right Hand, and he brought his friend, the phenomenally talented guitar player Kenny Vaughn, along with him. With the Mountain Stage Band behind them, Rodney and Kenny played a stellar set including three songs from this album. I was hooked then, and when the album came out about a month later I grabbed a copy immediately.
The album begins with two of the songs Rodney performed at that concert in Charleston. The album opener, “Still Learning How to Fly,” is a song Rodney wrote for a friend who had recently lost a battle with cancer. It’s a very introspective and reflective song dealing with memories of a life well-lived with an anticipatory eye turned toward what lies ahead in the afterlife.
The opener’s sweetness is followed by fire on the vitriolic title track. In it, Rodney takes the role of a “Honkey with an attitude coming unglued” as he breezes through a stream-of-consciousness rant against the ills of modern society. War, drugs, sex, materialism, the 24-hour news cycle… even Ken Starr… are all mentioned here. Some of the references may seem a little dated today, but the anger still holds true and the song still holds up. This track was named Song of the Year at the 2004 Americana Music Awards & Honors.
Bela Fleck’s chiming banjo brightens the tone once again on “Earthbound” as Rodney searches out the good things in the world. He finds several examples… Charlie Brown and Ringo Starr among them… and decides that he would like to stick around.
Though he finds peace with his environment, much of this album deals with Rodney finding peace with himself. As the titles may suggest, “Time to Go Inward” and “The Man in Me” both find the artist struggling with his own personal demons. The former song is quiet and contemplative as Rodney examines his own conscience and causes. The latter takes a more confrontational tone as the singer examines the reflection he sees in his own mirror, and finds the person looking back at him to be lacking.
The album continues on with several more songs of self-examination and ruminations on societal woes. The contemplative tone of things can make the album seem bleak at times, but the sunny outlook returns on the album closing “This Too Will Pass” (the third song from Rodney’s Mountain Stage set). It closes the album with a rousing and uplifting sing-along and a reminder that most of the setbacks we suffer are only temporary and can be overcome.
I’ll leave you with this lyric from “Time to Go Inward” that I think sums up the overall theme of Fate’s Right Hand while also setting up a guest list for what would surely be an interesting dinner party.
“Jesus and Buddha and Krishna and Minnie Pearl knew,Do unto others the things you want done unto you.”