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Rodney Crowell tests fate

By Jon Weisberger, September 2003

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With his kids older and more independent, Crowell returned to the recording studio with that fresh energy and began to search for a sound that could capture it to disc.

"My production partner, Pete Coleman, is one of those lab-coat Limeys," he says. "He's one of those old school guys that learned in England with a little white coat on. He's from the Glyn Johns school - mike placement, no reverb, get all that crap out of here. We recorded with analog equipment, without Pro Tools."

"So in a lot of ways, we're just a throwback. We make records, sonically speaking, the way they made them in the '70s. But we certainly have an idea of how we like for my records to sound, one that we actually discovered in the making of 'The Houston Kid.' When we started out, I didn't know what I wanted it to be like. And then he and I together discovered something together, and we thought, okay."

"Now we have something that I think we will explore until we've milked it - hopefully without going too far. There's a sound that this record has that I think is more my sound than ever before. It's a simple thing, really: We try not to overproduce it, and we try to make the sound of everything knit together in a way that's really natural and beautiful. Even if it's a distorted thing; distortion's beautiful too, you know."

And indeed, the sound of "Fate's Right Hand" is striking - as are the contributions of the musicians who worked on it.

"I just kind of cast it as I went along," Crowell notes. "Like on 'Time To Go Inward,' I just wanted to hear Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. I thought, wow, they'd sound really good here. So I called them up and said, I'm going to cut this song, come on over, and they came in. So we collaborated, and part of the fun of making the album was the collaboration. I really admire them, and so getting them in to get to work with them - boy, talk about loving your job!"

"The same with John Cowan, and John Jorgenson and Steuart Smith, or whoever it was. We'd say, 'hey, let's call Béla Fleck to come over, wouldn't that be great?' And then you get to watch Béla, and he's a genius. So not only are we doing our work, but I'm a fan and I'm being entertained. We sit in the control and watch. It's on my record, and the world gets to hear it, but one of the great things about doing it is I got to be there when it was conceived and to watch that happen. I love that."

Even more so than with "The Houston Kid," Crowell plans to hit the road hard in support of "Fate's Right Hand."

"I'm really thinking about how I'm going to present this music that I have," he notes. "I want to have an outfit around me that creates a sound that can be loud or really quiet. I've found that if I can create dynamics - go from being really quiet to really opening it up - and do it musically, then I can take the audience on a trip. I can take them from point A to point Z and hope that they'll walk out of there feeling that it was a good ride."

"When you play music, you can get lost in a place where time stops, and you're in the absolute moment of musical creativity. We can go into a rehearsal hall or go up in my studio at my house and play and get lost in that moment, but the thing that's really cool is when you get in that moment and there's an audience that's in it with you. It's wonderful. And that's the reason you go out there, is to play that music and be all in that one place all together.

"Now, you can be up there on that stage and get seduced by the adulation and then start posing or do whatever you do, and that takes away from artistry. But if I can just get in that moment and play the music and actually get to that thing with an audience, then it makes me be willing to try to come down from that and go sit in a hotel room by myself and stare at the ceiling. Because that's a high price to pay; that's the hardest part of it for me. But when it's working, that connection with the audience is so good and so strong that it makes me endure that other side."

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