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Rodney Crowell

Texas – 2019 (RC1)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Rodney Crowell

Rodney Crowell is a rare breed of a country songwriter. Yes, he knows how to write traditional country songs; it's just he's also a deep thinker, which requires extra effort on the part of the listener to appreciate them fully. "Texas" is just as varied as his everything-is-bigger home state. It's also a star-studded affair, which even includes none other than Ringo Starr.

"Brown & Root, Brown & Root" includes an historical introduction from Crowell's duet partner on it, Steve Earle. Brown & Root was a Texas company that employed many locals, which was bought out by the (evil?) Halliburton. It's a ramshackle song, built with fiddle, mandolin and Earle's scratchy singing. "56 Fury" features Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top, and Gibbons' distinctive electric guitar tone and quickly recognizable vocal transforms the song into a fun, rumbling blues. "Deep In The Heart Of Uncertain Texas" is a sober, not too complimentary ode to Crowell's birth state. Crowell is joined on it by Ronnie Dunn, Willie Nelson and Lee Ann Womack.

"Texas Drought" is similar to "Deep In The Heart Of Uncertain Texas," only it features Crowell alone singing it, over a piano/guitar instrumental bed. It addresses the devastation of a drought, while all the while the jukebox - quite appropriately - plays Jimmy Reed.

One of the fun songs is "Flatland Hillbillies," which has a more Beatles-esque jangling groove than the actual song Starr appears on. With vocal help from Womack and Randy Rogers, Crowell explores many of the ancestral heritages of his Texas neighbors. It's also good fun to hear Crowell trade lyrical lines with Vince Gill for "Caw Caw Blues."

While many (too many) in Nashville are giving superficial thought to Southern-ness in mainstream country songs, Crowell goes deep - deep into the heart of Texas - with smart and bracing results.