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Crowell doesn't rest on laurels

TCAN, Natick, Mass., October 19, 2012

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Rodney Crowell may not be the hit maker he once was when he had a highly successful - and well-deserved - stretch of hits. Crowell last had a single chart reached the top 50 in 1992, but that hasn't meant he relegated his career to looking back.

Far from it as he demonstrated in a stellar and meaty 140-minute show. Crowell, wearing a black fedora as to state his coolness, which he would quickly show musically, played songs new and old, serious and humorous, country and bluesy.

Crowell showed from the get go that he was not going to rest on his past. In fact, he started with an unrecorded song, Sweet Little Liza penned by his sound man, a roadhouse-type song with a lot of vim and vigor and easy to get into. In fact, Crowell said this was the first time he had ever performed the song in public.

As evidence of what he has done lately, Crowell released the very fine disc "Kin" in June, containing songs he wrote with poety/writer Mary Karr. Crowell explained (he did a very good job of this during the show, giving the background of how certain songs evolved, providing the audience with an even greater ability to enjoy the music) that the intent was to write a few songs for one of his albums, but that wasn't how it turned out.

Instead, it became a disc of their songs with Crowell taking vocals on some, but others being led by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Lee Ann Womack, Kris Kristofferson.

Crowell turned in sturdy readings of a few songs from "Kin," including Anything But Tame, the ultra-honest I'm a Mess, and God, I'm Missing You (sung by Lucinda Williams on the disc). Crowell's voice was in fine form throughout the night, not showing any wear at all.

A chunk of Crowell's songs had Southern themes. Not a surprise, after all, since that was his upbringing, having grown up in Houston. I Wish It Would Rain was based on a youth he knew - but no longer remembered until his mother told him about him - that had AIDS.

Crowell played acoustic guitar the entire night, aided and abetted by the great guitarist Jed Hughes. An Australian, Hughes once upon a time released a very fine major label disc, saw another major deal go south and has been on his own with recordings and being a sidekick.

Until he finally can get his own career off the ground - and Crowell expected that to happen - he is the big-time beneficiary of Hughes' talents. He is a lyrical, fluid guitarist, at times making you think he was playing electric. Hughes also contributed his talents on mandolin and sang a few songs that did not come off as filler while Crowell took a break.

Crowell dipped into his catalogue with such songs as the well-written Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight and the uptempo, bouncy She's Crazy for Leavin' along with the ultra-funny It's Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long, a song he wrote with his friend Vince Gill for their short-lived band The Notorious Cherry Bombs.

Crowell looked elsewhere, though, to close out the show. He talked on playing a gig in Sligo, Ireland, near where William Butler Yeats is buried. He decided to make pilgrimage to Yeats' grave and pledged to himself to try to "sing a song by a great American poet every night that I can." Townes Van Zant was the recipient of the honor on this night with a fine rendition of Pancho and Lefty and some vocal help from the supportive crowed.

As if to emphasize the enjoyment on this evening, Crowell said at the outset of the encore that the regular set was for the money, but now he would play a few songs for fun. He took requests from the crowd, ending the night with Beautiful Despair, Waylon Jennings' Ain't Living Long Like This and the appropriately soft ballad Love Is All I Need.

Crowell proved you don't need to be topping the charts to make relevant music that matters.