New West Records
As far as a safe pair of hands goes you won’t get much better/safer than Rodney Crowell. He’s there as background guy – sessions, songwriting, guitarist in the band playing for the song – or out in front, the leading guy. We last heard from him via the duets album with Emmylou Harris, which was lovely – if perhaps a little too safe. But Tarpaper Sky sits with his very best work, effortlessly graceful across beautiful ballads (God I’m Missing You, Famous Last Words of a Fool In Love), capable of easily shifting gears into that loose-but-perfect bar-room blues shuffle (Somebody’s Shadow), rewriting an old John Denver song as elegy for that man (Oh What A Beautiful World), making new versions of mint old rockabilly (Frankie Please) or creating John Hiatt/Steve Earle-like scene-setting Americana on the opener, The Long Journey Home. It’s all almost too easy for Crowell, a long career behind him and plenty of great playing and inspiration still ahead.
He’ll chuck in a little zydeco feel (Fever on the Bayou) or concentrate almost entirely on the lyrics; the telling of a story (Grandma Love That Old Man). This is like a masterclass in writing and playing. Great country music that manages to step outside of any of the closed-mindedness you could ever try to attribute to the country genre. It’s a broad sweep for Crowell, hints of the blues always there. And though there’s no shame in saddling up for the country music – none whatsoever – this manages to transcend any genre pigeonholing. This is simply a great set of a songs – lovingly crafted, beautifully captured. Up there with his very best.