Archive for the Rodney Crowell Category

Top 10 Americana Albums of the Decade: #7 – Fate’s Right Hand by Rodney Crowell

Posted in Rodney Crowell, Top 10 Americana Albums: 2000-2009 on November 20, 2009 by AmericanaPulse
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.”

Rodney Crowell: Fate’s Right Hand (Buy Album)

Rodney Crowell: Earthbound (Buy Album)

Americana Music Awards Nominees ’09: Song of the Year

Posted in Americana Music Awards 09, Buddy and Julie Miller, Kasey Chambers, Patty Griffin, Rodney Crowell, Shane Nicholson, The Flatlanders, The Gourds on August 28, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Last week, I previewed the nominees for “Best New & Emerging Artist” at this year’s Americana Awards and Honors and asked you to vote for who you thought should win. You chose The Band of Heathens by an almost two-to-one margin over Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles.

This week, we’re going to dip into another category and ask you to vote on the “Americana Song of the Year.”

We’ll start with “Chalk” by Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin from Buddy and Julie Miller’s 2009 release Written in Chalk. Julie wrote the song, but does not appear on the track… opting instead to let Patty Griffin lend her beautiful voice to provide the soaring harmonies to Buddy’s soulful and grounded baritone. It was the right choice. Lyrically, the song is a classic Julie Miller tune full of heartache, heartbreak, burdens carried, and promises written in chalk that are easily erased. The musical accompaniment is mostly subdued… strummed acoustic guitars, resonant drums, and soft piano flourishes… but the vocal performances of Buddy and Patty make the song an absolute powerhouse.

Buddy Miller & Patty Griffin: Chalk (Buy Album)

The perfect counterpoint to the restrained heartbreak of “Chalk” is the unbridled joy and energy of “Country Love” by The Gourds from their 2009 effort Haymaker. Vocalist Kevin Russell sets the tone for the song by shouting the opening line, “Wake up! We’re going to the country.” For the next 2:45 the listener is taken on a hayride through the backwoods… a place where sweet potatoes are divine, you can actually see the stars away from the city lights, and a little “country lovin'” can make everything alright. Accordions, twangy guitars, and shouts of joy fill the track. If you can’t dance to this one… you may just not dance at all.

The Gourds: Country Love (Buy Album)

We’re brought back to reality a bit by the third nominee, “Homeland Refugee” by The Flatlanders from their 2009 effort Hills and Valleys. On this track, Flatlanders Joe Ely, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock create a moving narrative by invoking imagery from past eras of American hardships such as The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl to illustrate some of the financial hardships being faced by many Americans today. Ely takes lead vocals on the track and tells of a protagonist forced to leave his home on the coast and return to a simpler life in middle America. He returns along the same path his forefathers used during our country’s time of expansion when people looked to the west to find better fortunes. A lyrical nod to Woody Guthrie only drives home the point that our “Pastures of Plenty” aren’t so plentiful anymore.

The Flatlanders: Homeland Refugee (Buy Album)

That brings us to “Rattlin’ Bones,” the title track of the 2008 release by Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson. The husband and wife team of Kasey and Shane take a few cues from the Carter Family on this track that is a true celebration of the roots of country and folk music. The instrumentation is sparse with just guitar, banjo, and drums. Kasey and Shane share the lead vocal in a back-and-forth style and combine to craft haunting harmonies in the chorus. The concept is simple, but the execution is flawless. I don’t care if it comes from Australia… this IS Americana music.

Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Rattlin’ Bones (Buy Album)

Our final nominee this year is the title track from Rodney Crowell’s 2008 effort Sex and Gasoline. As you may recall, I was a little underwhelmed by Rodney’s latest effort when it was released… but this track had nothing to do with that. The song is an indictment of a sexist society and a popular culture that bases a woman’s worth solely on her beauty and youth. Or to put it in Rodney’s words, “You ain’t nothin’ but the shape you’re in.” There is something wrong with a society in which a 30-year-old woman is looked upon as an “old hag.” Of course, Rodney Crowell has never been afraid to call a foul when he sees one.

Rodney Crowell: Sex and Gasoline (Buy Album)

As for who should and will win this one I think I’m going to have to go with Buddy and Patty on both counts. Buddy is the most awarded artist in the history of the Americana Music Awards, and he’s leading the house band for the awards show again this year. Patty is also a past winner at the awards and sports what may be the best voice in the industry. The dark horse here may be The Flatlanders. Voters for this award have gone for topical songs in the past, and this one is timely without being transparent.

My vote (if I had one): Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin
My prediction: Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin

Music and Politics: Speak Your Mind vs. Shut up and Sing

Posted in Rodney Crowell on November 2, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

A few weeks ago during our fund drive at WDVX, I received an e-mail from a listener thanking me essentially for keeping the politics out of the music we play on the air. He reasoned that he listens to the radio to be entertained… not to hear more of what he can readily find on any number of 24 hour news networks. This listener was a political conservative and had, in fact, stopped listening to some other stations because of their liberal political views and their willingness to play songs and artists who promoted those liberal views. His brother, who is a liberal, had also started to tune out those stations… even though he shared their beliefs.

On the other hand… I’ve also heard from listeners who wonder why we don’t play more “music with a message.” On the whole, the Americana Radio format is very friendly to left-leaning artists such as Steve Earle, Todd Snider, James McMurtry, and many many others. McMurtry won Americana Song of the Year in 2006 with the politically charged “Can’t Make it Here.” He was nominated again this year for a song called “Cheney’s Toy.” We played neither song here at WDVX.

We actually have a pretty solid, if unwritten, policy here about topical songs. We normally don’t play them. While Americana artists and audiences seem to be fairly liberal on the whole… Tennessee is one of the more conservative states in the U.S. The thought is that it’s better to be safe and stay away from controversial songs than it is to play those songs and risk alienating a large chunk of our audience.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I am a registered Democrat and lean to the left on most political issues. I try not to bring politics too much into what I write here because A.) that’s not what this blog is about, and B.) there are plenty of folks out there who could write much more intelligently than I on any number of political topics. It can’t help but seep in from time to time, however. Of course, you probably already know that if you’ve been reading and downloading some of the songs I’ve posted here lately. I’ve put up songs by Anne McCue, Todd Snider, and The Duhks with political bents… and there was this post about electing a song to the Presidency.

I guess I just really liked those songs and was a little frustrated that I wasn’t able to share them on the air. Maybe I wanted to share the messages contained in the songs, or maybe I just wanted to share the music. I’m sure it was probably a little bit of both. I do agree with Todd Snider in the song “Mission Accomplished” when he compares the Bush administration to someone driving a car off a cliff and calling it flying, but I also just really love the rolling Bo Diddley beat that powers the song along with Todd’s wailing harmonica. I know I’d still love the song if Todd were to keep the same music but change the lyrics to make it a love song or something crazy about how much he loves asparagus.

Would I still like it if he were singing about issues I disagree with such as the weakening of environmental standards or denying rights to same sex couples? I doubt it.

I’m not trying to spark a left vs. right debate. I’m just citing this as an example. My real question is more about how much an artist’s political views color your enjoyment of their work. If an artist you like reveals an affiliation that is in opposition to yours, do you back off of your fandom? Do you care who Ralph Stanley is voting for? Do you care where Aaron Tippin wants to drill? Are you interested in hearing what the artist believes in, or do you just want them to shut up and entertain you?

One more story and then we’ll open the floor for discussion.

This summer, my wife bought me tickets to an R.E.M. concert for my birthday. The show was in Atlanta, not far from the band’s home turf of Athens, GA. They played a strong set full of blistering numbers from their new album Accelerate as well as a nice mixture of old favorites. To put it simply… it was one hell of a good time! The band put on a show for the home crowd, and for two hours I was thoroughly and completely entertained.

At one point in the show, however, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe made some statements from the stage about the upcoming election. Stipe made it very clear that he supported Barack Obama, and he thought the audience should too. To my memory, Stipe didn’t scream or rant. He just took a few moments to calmly state his views and beliefs. No big deal, right?

After the show, on my way out of the venue, I overheard a fellow concert goer wonder out loud why Michael Stipe had to ruin the whole night by “getting political.” Was Stipe’s speech such an affront to this man’s sensibilities that it really did ruin his entire evening? Did he not know to expect this from R.E.M., a band that has always had a political slant to its music and persona? Did a three minute speech really destroy two hours of music?

That’s the question I’m pondering this week as we head into election day and beyond. Speak your mind, or shut up and sing?

And now for the obligitory mp3… Rodney Crowell obviously has a lot to say in this song from his 2005 release The Outsider, but he doesn’t want to get off on a rant. This song is a little less subtle than some others, but it does kind of address the question I’m asking today. Speak out or hold it inside?

Rodney Crowell: Don’t Get Me Started (Buy Album)

P.S. No matter who you’re voting for… make sure you get out and pull the lever for your guy on Tuesday.

Americana Music Awards: Past Song of the Year winners

Posted in Americana Music Awards, Buddy Miller, Darrell Scott, James McMurtry, Jim Lauderdale, Johnny Cash, Ralph Stanley, Rodney Crowell on September 15, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

The Americana Music Honors and Awards show is this Thursday night in Nashville at the historic Ryman Auditorium. I have gone through most of the nominees and honorees at this year’s event in this space over the last month or so. As we lead up to the event this week, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the previous winners.

Today… song of the year.

2002:

Jim Lauderdale & Ralph Stanley: She’s Looking at Me (Buy Album)

For the first year of the award, voters chose a perfect blend of old and new. Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley joins songwriter Jim Lauderdale, an artist known for preserving old-time sounds while updating them for new audiences, on a fun little bluegrass romp, “She’s Looking at Me.” The album, Lost in the Lonesome Pines, won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album in 2002.

2003:

Johnny Cash: Hurt (Buy Album)

Last week’s theme at Star Maker Machine was “Johns,” and poster, Autopsy IV, put up this track for a Johnny Cash post. As he says in his post, I really believe history will remember this as a Johnny Cash song… not a Nine Inch Nails song. Watching the video makes this song that much more heartbreaking.

2004:

Rodney Crowell: Fate’s Right Hand (Buy Album)

I’ve posted this song before, and it is one of my favorites. Rodney takes us through a stream of consciousness rant against several of society’s ills. Sex, drugs, disasters, murder, Ken Star, womanizing, government excess, global warming, and war are all covered in just over five minutes.

2005:

Buddy Miller: Worry too Much (Buy Album)

Written by the late Mark Heard, this is the leadoff track to Buddy’s gospel-soul flavored album, Universal United House of Prayer. The Steeldrivers’ Tammy Rogers plays fiddle on the track with sisters Ann and Regina McCrary providing backing vocals straight out of a Sunday morning service.

2006:

James McMurtry: We Can’t Make it Here (Buy Album)

Here’s another one I’ve posted before. This song just becomes more and more true every time I hear it. From the factory workers who’ve seen their jobs sent overseas, to the veterans living on the streets, to the pregnant teen cast aside by society… We can’t make it here anymore.

2007:

Darrell Scott: Hank Williams’ Ghost (Buy Album)

I first heard this song at the 2005 Americana Music Conference as part of a panel where new music was played for DJ’s and radio programmers as a sort of focus group. We all immediately fell in love with the song, and it received the highest ratings of anything we heard that day. No surprise it picked up this award two years later.

New Music: Rodney Crowell

Posted in Rodney Crowell on September 8, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Rodney Crowell’s new CD, Sex and Gasoline, was released last week. I’ve been listening to it for two or three weeks now, and I’m still not sure I’ve fully formed my opinion on the album. In fact, I’ve started to make this post a couple of times now with my review. I just haven’t really known where to go with it.

Friday night, however, I got an email from one of my listeners at WDVX asking my thoughts on the record. I had to tell her that I wasn’t really sure where I stand on the album as a whole… and I think that’s ok.

The fact is that there are songs on here that I really like… I like most of them actually. It’s just that the album as a whole feels a little slow. The title track starts things off nicely with an up-tempo indictment against those who judge women based solely on their youth and beauty. After that, the album slows to a crawl only revving up again for “I Want You #35.” It never really rocks again from that point on.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some solid songs outside the two I just mentioned. This is still Rodney Crowell. The man can write a song. It’s just that when all of these songs are stretched out end to end over 50-plus minutes, I start to lose interest. I need something more to hold me… at least on the first few listens. I’m sure I’ll look back on this album more favorably as time goes on, but for now, this one may have to be a grower.

Here is the title track plus another track called “The Rise and Fall of Intelligent Design.” Taken on its own, this is solid Rodney Crowell song. It’s topical and introspective with a catchy chorus… traits it shares with of some of my favorite Rodney Crowell songs. This song could take its place with some of those favorites someday, but I’d like to hear a little more fire over the course of the album.

Rodney Crowell: Sex and Gasoline (Buy Album)
Rodney Crowell: The Rise and Fall of Intelligent Design (Buy Album)

Americana Music Awards: Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting

Posted in Americana Music Awards, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy and Julie Miller, John Hiatt, Patty Griffin, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash on August 20, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

On Monday, I featured the group the Americana Music Association will honor with this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance… Jason and the Scorchers.

Today, we feature the recipiant of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting, John Hiatt. I was going to wait to do the Hiatt post next week, until I realized that today is actually Hiatt’s birthday. The Master of Disaster turns 56 today.

I wrote about Hiatt last month when he played a show in Maryville just outside of Knoxville. In that space, I mentioned just a few of Hiatt’s songs that have been recorded by other artists. In my view, one of the highest honors you can pay a songwriter is to record one his songs. If that’s true, Hiatt has been honored many, many, many times.

A list of some of the artists who have covered Hiatt’s songs includes Patty Griffin, Buddy & Julie Miller, Ronnie Milsap, Jeff Healey, Bonnie Raitt, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash, Eric Clapton & B.B. King, Jim Dickenson, Chuck Prophet, Suzy Bogguss, Ry Cooder, Kenny Rogers, Delbert McClinton, Joe Cocker, Emmylou Harris, Conway Twitty, Maria Muldour, Sam Bush, Carl Perkins, Aaron Neville, Willie Nelson, Chris Smither, Gregg Allman, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, Three Dog Night, George Thorogood, The Wailin’ Jennys, Steve Earle, Asleep at the Wheel, Joan Baez, David Crosby, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Kevin Welch, Linda Ronstadt, Buddy Guy… even Paula Abdul. Pop, blues, country, folk, rock, punk, bluegrass… artists from all genres and backgrounds have found something in the music of John Hiatt.

John Hiatt is certainly one of my favorites, and no one is more deserving of this honor than he. Hiatt joins past recipiants Billy Joe Shaver, John Prine, Cowboy Jack Clement, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, and Willie Nelson as winners of the award.

Below, you’ll find one track from Hiatt himself… the title track from his 2000 release Crossing Muddy Waters… and a few Hiatt songs performed by other artists.

John Hiatt: Crossing Muddy Waters (Buy Album)
Rosanne Cash: The Way We Make a Broken Heart (Buy Album)
Rodney Crowell: She Loves the Jerk (Buy Album)
Bonnie Raitt: Thing Called Love (Buy Album)
Patty Griffin: Take it Down (Buy Album)
Buddy & Julie Miller: Paper Thin (Buy Album)
Rosanne Cash: Pink Bedroom (Buy Album)

Happy Birthday: Rodney Crowell & Raul Malo

Posted in Raul Malo, Rodney Crowell, The Mavericks on August 7, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Just a quick post today to wish Happy Birthday to two of the great voices of Americana Music.

Rodney Crowell was born August 7, 1950 in Houston, TX. He’s perhaps best known for his 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt that launched five number one singles onto the Billboard Country Singles Chart. He was also a member of Emmylou Harris’ original Hot Band, produced several hit records for his ex-wife Rosanne Cash, and wrote hit songs for several artists including Bob Seger, Crystal Gayle, Keith Urban, and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Now 58, Crowell is still going strong. His last three albums, The Houston Kid, Fate’s Right Hand, and The Outsider are widely regarded as being among the best of his career. His newest release Sex and Gasoline is scheduled to be released next month.

Here’s a lesser known song from Diamonds & Dirt that didn’t make the top of the charts, and a few tracks from Crowell’s recent recordings… including the 2004 Americana Song of the Year, “Fate’s Right Hand.”

Rodney Crowell: I Know You’re Married (Buy Album)

Rodney Crowell: Rock of My Soul (Buy Album)
Rodney Crowell: Fate’s Right Hand (Buy Album)
Rodney Crowell: Say You Love Me (Buy Album)

Raul Malo was born August 7, 1965 in Miami, FL and is best known as the lead singer of The Mavericks. With the Mavericks, Malo blended traditional country with bits of Bakersfield, border radio, and rock and roll to create an unique sound that helped the band earn two Vocal Group of the Year Awards from the Country Music Association in the 1990s. As the title of their 1995 release tells us, The Mavericks really could make Music for All Occasions.

Here is a track from that 1995 album that features Flaco Jimenez on the accordian. I also have a track from The Mavericks’ 2003 self-titled effort and a Gram Parsons cover from a project Malo released in 2004 with Rob Ickes, Pat Flynn, and Dave Pomeroy.

The Mavericks: All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down (Buy Album)

The Mavericks: I Want to Know (Buy Album)
Raul Malo: Hot Burrito #1 (Buy Album)