Album review

Rodney Crowell - Tarpaper Sky

Rodney Crowell - Tarpaper Sky

Americana master, songwriter du jour, strikes while iron is hot...

Hot on the heels of a Grammy win for Old Yellow Moon, his collaboration with Emmylou Harris, the ever-prolific Rodney Crowell starts here to inch away from the memoir style dominating his solo output throughout the 'oughts' (starting with 2001's The Houston Kid). Rather, Tarpaper Sky brings Crowell full circle of sorts, back to his 1970s/1980s prominence as a stylistic wizard, an auteur, a seamless, affecting roots-rock-Americana jack-of-all-trades.

Zigzagging through a wide range of moods and settings, reunited with erstwhile Eagles guitarist Steuart Smith, Crowell here is the consummate professional, hewing toward write-to-order yet none the worse for wear: 1950s-style tearjerker balladry (“I Wouldn't Be Me Without You”), inspiring visions of a retro cover by, say, Ernest Tubb or Ray Price; Cajun homage, borrowing from the ancient as dirt “Jole Blon” riff for the insidiously catchy “Fever on the Bayou”. There is R&B specked honky-tonk shuffles (“Somebody's Shadow”); breathless balladry (“God I'm Missing You”), plus rockabilly workouts, jukebox jitterbugs, and odd gospel-style turns.

That’s not to say Tarpaper Sky is bereft of reminiscence; just that it’s painted with broader, more general strokes. “Grandma Loved That Old Man,” for instance, stakes out familiar territory, a character sketch of archetypal figures—a reckless man and his long-suffering wife. The gospel-tinged “Long Journey Home,” in fact, the album's flagship tune, is nothing if not a long look back—an optimistic peering out at one’s twilight years ahead after a good run: “The simple life now tastes sweeter/You have no need to roam,” he sings, his malleable voice curling up into the lyric. “The Flyboy & the Kid” might be the best of a great bunch, a snappy feel-good, love-of-life paean—echoing, and building upon, Bob Dylan's relatively minimalistic “Forever Young”. Throughout, Crowell’s versatile, impassioned voice is in fine fettle, a confident mix of goofiness and longing, anticipation and excitement, sadness and sentimentality, as if he’s just now entering a new prime. He might well be.
Luke Torn

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Rating: 8 / 10

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