Long before the term Americana was coined as a genre Rodney Crowell had pushed the boundaries of country and rock, made a name for himself and gained respect as a singer and songwriter.
Tarpaper Sky proves, once again, that the Houston Kid remains as important as ever and finds him mixing ballads and rock and roll rhythms with his characteristic autobiographical detail. It is an album that would sit well between 1988s Diamonds And Dirty and 1992s Life Is Messy.
Opening with The Long Journey Home, with its ageless theme of wanderlust, the album moves into the cajun charm of Fever On The Bayou, featuring mandolin and accordion, which finds Crowell singing to a Louisiana belle. The rampaging rock and roll rhythms of Frankie Please follows and leaves you in no doubt that you want to meet her!
The band, Steuart Smith (guitar), Michael Rhodes (bass), John Hobbs (piano), Eddie Bayers (drums/piano) and Crowell (guitar) along with the guest musicians really rock on Frankie Please and are excellent throughout the whole album.
He revisits life's lessons with Jesus Talk To Mama, in which he celebrates his mother's faith and pays tribute to his mentor Guy Clark with The Flyboy And The Kid. Other highlights include the poignant country waltz I Wouldn't Be Me Without You, Famous Last Words Of A Fool In Love and the closing track Oh What A Beautiful World.
However, the highlight for me has to be the sparse and intimate God, I'm Missing You performed with an ache in his heart and you would have to be made of stone for the mournful lyrics not to tug at your heart. Co-written with Mary Karr this song, as performed by Lucinda Williams, had appeared on the album Kin although Crowell's own reading of the lyrics is far superior.
I saw Rodney Crowell back in the seventies with Emmylou Harris and bought his first album, Ain't Living Long Like This, in 1978 on the day of release. Since then I have purchased every album including Street Language (1986), Diamonds And Dirt (1988), Jewel Of The South (1995), The Houston Kid (2001) and Sex And Gasoline (2008). Crowell's remarkable career continues with Tarpaper Sky and as the Los Angeles Times commented, "Along with peers such as Emmylou Harris and John Hiatt, who also launched their careers in the '70s, Crowell seems to have found the fuel to just keep getting better."
Tarpaper Sky is available from the 'Other Artists' category at the Johnny Cash Fanzine Store.