CD Review of Sex and Gasoline by Rodney Crowell
Recommended if you like
Guy Clark, John Hiatt, Steve Earle
Label
Yep Roc
Rodney Crowell:
Sex and Gasoline

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

R
odney Crowell has generally resided on the fringes of Nashville’s alt-country community, both in terms of his musical mandate and his success as a solo star. A good portion of his career has been spent in the service of others, be it as a songwriter – “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This” (Emmylou Harris), “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” (Emmylou, the Oak Ridge Boys), “Till I Gain Control Again,” (Emmylou and Crystal Gayle), “Shame on the Moon” (Bob Seger), “Long Hard Road” (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), and “Somewhere Tonight” (Highway 101) being among his many compositions – or as a hired gun (in Harris’ Hot Band and as producer for ex-wife Roseanne Cash). All that beside the fact he’s recorded some of Country’s most consistently compelling albums under his own aegis for the better part of the last 30 years.

Happily, Crowell scored a comeback of sorts earlier this decade when he released the first of three highly lauded solo efforts, the autobiographical The Houston Kid, followed by Fate’s Right Hand in 2003 and The Outsider two years after that. Sex and Gasoline comes right on cue, and while it veers from the tell-all trilogy that preceded it, it nevertheless manages to focus on themes that remain equally as urgent – from the angry riposte given to America’s current administration in the cynical “The Rise and Fall of Intelligent Design” to his arched remarks on pursuing priorities in the decidedly Dylanesque title track.

Mostly, though, Crowell limits his commentary to matters of the heart. The reflective “Moving Work of Art” and “Forty Winters” rank among his loveliest ballads, while “Truth Decay” and “I’ve Done Everything I Can” adhere to the same mellow vibe, albeit tempered with a furrowed brow. Indeed, a confessional tone has always been infused into Crowell’s musical makeup, famously nurtured by the break-up of his marriage to Cash in 1991. The snippy “I Want You” returns him to that cynical stance, while the rootsy ramble of “Who Do You Trust” and “Funky and the Farm Boy” allow him to indulge in typical good-old-boy posturing.

Rodney Crowell

Crowell pulls it all off his typical aplomb, aided and abetted by producer Joe Henry, whose most recent album, Civilians, found him exploring similarly stark terrain. Star session players – guitarist Doyle Bramhall II and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz, among them – help keep the arrangements rich but unobtrusive.

Chalk up Sex and Gasoline as another triumph for a man who remains a singular force in roots music. “I don’t want to be famous / Who gives a damn / I just want to be happy wherever I am,” Crowell professes on the album’s final track, “Closer to Heaven.” An apt summation of his unassuming precepts, it serves as an irrefutable anthem about affirmation, and certainly a most convincing coda as well.

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