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CD Reviews: Review of The Outsider by Rodney Crowell
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Click here to buy yourself a copy from Amazon.com Rodney Crowell: The Outsider (Columbia/Sugarhill  2005)

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Rodney Crowell is generally perceived as a country artist…and understandably so; his 1989 album, Diamonds and Dirt, found him scoring 5 #1 hits on the country charts. Still, if you jump back far enough in his career – all the way back to his 1977 debut, Ain’t Living Long Like This – he’s never been afraid to mix rock, folk, and blues into his material. Unfortunately, the country community has always been a little confused by him, leading to Crowell entering into a self-imposed retirement from 1995 to 2001.

When he returned with The Houston Kid, he had…well, not so much reinvented himself as much as made the decision to simply be himself. His latest album, The Outsider, is self-described as “a culmination of a lot of things I’ve been working diligently toward as a recording artist. Hopefully, it will render my past pigeonholing obsolete while positioning me more solidly as a socially conscious American singer/songwriter. Wouldn’t that be entertaining?” At the very least, the album certainly is.

Crowell’s current style falls somewhere between Bob Dylan (in fact, on “Beautiful Despair,” he sings, “Beautiful despair is hearing Dylan when you’re drunk at 3 a.m.”) and John Hiatt, but with a voice much closer to the latter, which is arguably a good thing. The definitive song on the album is “Don’t Get Me Started,” with verses tackling everything from the homeless and the national debt to East Timor and the Indonesian legion, followed by the chorus, with Crowell singing, “Don’t get me started / You never know when I might stop / Don’t get me started / We both ought to let this thing drop.” This comes only a few songs after “The Obscenity Prayer (Give It to Me),” where Crowell plays the part of a narrator whose world view is, indeed, obscene…and all too familiar:

Serve my breakfast au fresco
Let the wine and liquor flow I can search for truth some other time Right now I just want to get what’s mine
Give to me my Aspen winter
Sorry ‘bout the world trade center I can’t help the ones in need
I’ve got my own mouth to feed Give to me my Playboy channel
Killer weed and sheets of flannel Lay me down upon my bed
With pleasant dreams to fill my head

Yes, as you can see, things get a little heavy-handed at times, particularly on “Ignorance Is the Enemy,” where the verses are spoken rather than sung, but the harmonies between Crowell, Emmylou Harris, and John Prine during the choruses make it a highlight of album nonetheless. Things aren’t entirely political on the record, if you’re concerned; in particular, “Glasgow Girl” is a lovely romantic song, and “Things That Go Bump in the Day” tackles the everyday situation of waking up one day and realizing that you’ve become the kind of person you always said you’d never be.

The Outsider is a tremendously strong album, and one which can bring Crowell a whole new set of fans…but, to put it bluntly, this shit is not going to play in Nashville, so don’t be surprised if we never see Crowell rising to the top of the country charts ever again. Then again, don’t be surprised if Crowell doesn’t give a good goddamn if he does or not. 

~Will Harris 


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