Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
lmost half-way through his concert, Rodney Crowell opined to the seated, older crowd about his new CD "Tarpaper Sky," "I am proud of it. I think it's a good piece of work."
Crowell, a truthsayer, didn't need to convince anyone of that. Yes, the CD on a new label for Crowell, New West, is quite good, and, fortunately, he played a healthy chunk of it - 8 of the 11 songs.
But whether playing old or new, Crowell, 63, demonstrated that he remains an artist of staying power. That could be because he remains a keen songwriter in the school of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zant. There's a depth to the material ("Famous Last Words of a Fool in Love" about growing old, or "Frankie Please" about a mismatched romance). Crowell remains a true wordsmith, painting pictures with his lyrics, something often missing in commercial country today.
Crowell, however, was a man of fewer words than typical with the crowd, expressing a bit of a cool demeanor.
Crowell was amply aided by long-time sidekick Steuart Smith on guitar. He sometimes went twangy and country, other times bluesy plus a few other styles in between. But Stuart's playing is exact, not based on being a speed demon and succinct. This hired hand also has played for The Eagles since 2001, performing live and co-writing several songs on the band's last disc. Crowell made reference to Steuart's other band, indicating he wasn't playing with Crowell for the big bucks. Somehow that didn't seem to affect his skills.
Michael Rinne on bass and Keio Stroud on drums anchored the rhythm section.
Opener Shannon McNally and merch person (and a former Sony video honcho) Joanne Gardner occasionally provided extra vocal punch on backing vocals, fleshing out the sound a bit more.
Yes, Crowell played a few of his older songs - "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Day Light," "Til I Gain Control Again" (both recorded by Emmylou Harris in the 1970s), a few from 2001's "The Houston Kid" and closing his lone encore with "Stars on the Water - but this was not a night of greatest hits.
The songs sounded fresh and in keeping, for the most part, of where Crowell is today musically.
Fortunately, Crowell has a plethora of material and did not have to lean heavily on his hits and grow into a moldies act. In reality, he didn't play any songs that were big hits from him. While perhaps some of his graying fans may have wanted to sing along to ""I Couldn't Leave You If I Tried" or any of his other five consecutive number ones from 1988-89, credit Crowell for not feeling any sense of obligation to rely on those songs to render music that still cuts deep.