Rodney Crowell – Tarpaper Sky (New West) – Country music proponents have always prided the genre as being one that’s been primarily driven by songs that tell a story. With Rodney Crowell, you have an old hand quite adept at doing that on a regular basis, even finding a bit of commercial success dating back to the gold record he earned for 1988’s Diamonds & Dirt. And while he’s somewhat become kryptonite to the Music Row poohbahs that call the shots at radio and television, Crowell’s songwriting has yielded chart success for the likes of Alan Jackson, Keith Urban, Lee Ann Womack and Tim McGraw in recent years. Following up last year’s wonderful Old Yellow Moon project that he released with longtime friend and former employer Emmylou Harris comes Crowell’s fourteenth studio album. Clearly, the man hasn’t lost a step as he sings of heartbreak (a forlorn “God I’m Missing You”), cherished relatives (the bittersweet “Grandma Loved That Old Man”) and flat out gratitude for drawing breath (a loping Oh What a Beautiful World” complete with winsome harp intro.). Throughout, Crowell paints stories with his lyrics that run the gamut from tales of the toxic relationship driving the rockabilly shuffle “Frankie Please” (“You tore through my life like a tornado looking for a trailer park/And your white trash mishmash short of cash culture clash hit the mark”) to going back to the familiar surroundings at the heart of the mid-tempo “The Long Journey Home” (“An eagle flies at sunrise/’Cross an aspen grove and back/And the moonlight brings a blue coyote choir”). And while the amount of pedal steel and fiddle is minimal on these songs compared to the artificially pumped up levels found on most of what passes for country music on radio these days, Crowell continues to operate at a high level well below the radar of what most contemporary country music fans are being spoon-fed on the airwaves.
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