Rodney Crowell offers a deeply personal contemplation of the political, climatic and economic upheavals of our times.
Release Date: 23rd July 2021
Label: RC1 Records
Formats: CD / Vinyl / Digital
The music of Rodney Crowell will be familiar to many. In a career spanning almost 50 years, he has been showered with awards, including Grammys and Americana Music Association awards, he’s been responsible for fifteen number one records (including six of his own) and has worked with many of the biggest names in American music – Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Crystal Gayle and Rosanne Cash to name but a few. I probably know him best for his trademark jaunty, country-flavoured, lyric-laden, harmony-drenched songs but, as his new album, Triage, testifies, there’s a lot more to Rodney Crowell than that!
Triage is Rodney’s 18th studio album, his first since the acclaimed Texas in 2019, and it’s something of a departure. Sure, there are plenty of examples of the Rodney Crowell we all know, but Triage also introduces us to a more introspective personality than some us are perhaps used to. There are quite a few songs here that are deeply personal and, unsurprisingly, given the tribulations that we have all had to endure over the past couple of years, that examine the political, climatic and economic upheavals of our times.
The story of Triage goes back to the start of the pandemic. Rodney had an album that he considered to be close to completion, but, as the pandemic and the associated quarantine started to bite, he locked himself away with his wife, Claudia, two dogs and a pen and paper. New songs presented themselves, old songs were discarded and new, improved verses to existing songs were devised. Eventually, Rodney was able to return to the studio to tweak the original tapes and to add the new material to come up with this excellent collection of songs.
And Triage truly is an excellent collection. Alongside that trademark sound, there are also chunks of grungy rock, splatterings of blues and jazz and even a peppering of funk, expertly played by a handpicked group of musicians to accompany Rodney’s voice and vintage Gibson acoustic guitars in a set of songs that deal with such issues as the nature of love, transient global amnesia disorder, human impact upon wildlife habitats, religion, drug addiction and mortality. The music is a sweetener to help the listener digest the sometimes bitter lyrical content.
Triage contains some fine music, whether it’s the chugging rock of album opener Don’t Leave Me Now, the jangly guitar and electric piano soloing in in the Heart of Gold-like title track, the soft, spare instrumentation of Here Goes Nothing or the sleazy 12-bar rock of I’m All About Love – a song in which Rodney proclaims his love for just about anyone and everything, including Putin and “Donald….”
And there are some real highlights too! Transient Global Amnesia Blues, the album’s second single was written whilst Rodney recuperated from a bout of that fleeting yet debilitating disorder; a dreamy, intimate and slightly surreal song, it drifts along to a backing of contemplative bass, soft percussion and gentle echo-y guitars whilst the lyrics ponder the fickleness of memory. One Little Bird was inspired by the appearance of a single Carolina Wren on Rodney’s back patio one day during the summer of 2019. The bird’s song seemed to be a reprimand from the bird for the damage that the human race continues to wreak on nature – an dialogue that Rodney captured and wrapped in a pleasant country ballad.
Something Has to Change is, perhaps, the album’s most overtly political statement. The album’s first single, the lyrics contemplate the state of the world and, uncharacteristically, don’t offer any real hope that things will improve any time soon – all to a backing that contains some wonderfully sleazy trumpet and beautiful vocal harmonies. The Girl on The Street is another gem – an account of a chance encounter that Rodney had with a young woman on the streets of San Francisco, it pulls no punches in its harrowing tale of a junkie’s life – Once someone’s daughter, once someone’s friend – and ends in self-reproach as he realizes that I might have made a difference, if only I’d had the heart.
Triage ends on a real high with two songs that are amongst the collection’s best. Hymn#43, a co-composition with John Leventhal, is a soft acoustic number, supported by dramatic, thudding, string bass with a lyric that deals with the quest for the path of righteousness and questions the role that God may, or may not, have in finding that path. Of album closer, This Body Isn’t All There Is to Who I Am, Rodney says, “[This song] is, one could argue, a self-portrait. The notion that it’s never too early (or late) to make peace with the inevitable certainly resonates with me. As does hope for a brighter future.” And it’s with that hope, delivered on the wings of a sprightly, enjoyable piece of music, that this excellent album is brought to its close.
A great triumph from an old master!
Watch the official video to Transient Global Amnesia Blues – the second single taken from the new Rodney Crowell album – here: