Rodney Crowell The Outsider

It’s hard to believe there was a time when Rodney Crowell and Rosanne Cash (then his wife) were the toast of Nashville, scoring plenty of country hit singles (five off Crowell’s 1988 album Diamonds & Dust). Now, of course, both are viewed as way too leftfield and left-wing for the conservative Music City establishment. Each remains undeterred, putting out genuinely adult music for their devoted fan base. Crowell has drawn critical acclaim for such autobiographically-inclined albums as The Houston Kid and Fate’s Right Hand. On this new disc, he directs plenty of attention to the troubled state of America in 2005. He comes out swinging, both lyrically and musically, with rockin’ guitars and frisky beats punctuating cuts like the opening the "Say You Love Me” and "Epic Titus Speaks (Dancing Circles Round the Sun).” The social satire continues on "The Obscenity Prayer” ("I despise all bleeding hearts”) and "Don’t Get Me Started.” Such sharp-edged songs run the risk of getting dated quickly, and to these ears, Crowell is better at mapping the human heart than current politics. Rhymes like the latter’s "Jews in the news” and "Kurds and Bedouin herds” are beneath his usual superb standard. Happily, he comes up with some more personal gems in the form of "Glasgow Girl” and "Beautiful Despair,” which defines despair as "hearing Dylan when you’re drunk at three a.m. and knowing you’ll never write like him.” Furthering the tribute, Rodney also serves up a version of "Shelter from the Storm,” a gorgeous duet with his long-time collaborator, Emmylou Harris. Crowell’s honest and open vocals remain a treat, and the musicianship is typically superb. (Sony BMG)