The Hippo


Sep 18, 2018








 Rodney Crowell

When: Thursday, Sept. 20, 7:30 p.m. 
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $25 to $49.50 at
Also at the Cap
Rock group Blackberry Smoke performs at the Capitol Center for the Arts,   44 S. Main St., Concord, on Thursday, Sept. 13, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $34.50. The following night, at 8 p.m., Ani DiFranco plays the Cap, promoting her new album Binary. Tickets are $35 and $45. Visit

Americana Emeritus
Rodney Crowell brings deep catalog to Concord


 By Michael Witthaus
Though he calls himself a “middle-class artist,” just the songs Rodney Crowell has lent to other performers make the claim ring hollow. Begin with “Bluebird Wine” in 1975; Emmylou Harris heard it and invited Crowell to join her band. Waylon Jennings did “Ain’t Living Long Like This” a couple of years later. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Crystal Gayle, Oak Ridge Boys and Jimmy Buffett covered him — more recently, Keith Urban. Alan Jackson, Lee Ann Womack and Tim McGraw all had hits with Crowell’s tunes, too.
Bob Seger’s 1982 version of “Shame on the Moon” was the biggest smash of the bunch, spending four weeks near the top of the Billboard chart. In a recent phone interview, Crowell called it more than a cover. 
“He literally made that song his, so much so that I never performed it again,” he said. “I would never come up to the level of his performance.”
As for the ones Crowell does choose to play, they’ve done alright. 1988’s Diamonds & Dirt produced five straight No. 1 singles; “After All This Time” won a Grammy for Song of the Year. 
Two songs from the follow-up LP, Keys to the Highway, also hit the top five. He’s a 2003 inductee into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame who’s also won an ACA and multiple Americana Music Awards, including Song of the Year in 2017 for “It Ain’t Over Yet.” 
For his latest album, Crowell revisited 11 old songs, and wrote a new one. Acoustic Classics contains stripped down takes of material dating back to his first LP. It kicks off with “Earthbound” from 2003’s Fate’s Right Hand, which contains a line that neatly sums up his current outlook. “Someday I’ll be leaving,” he sings while lamenting the aging process, “but I just can’t help believing that it’s not today.”
In some cases, lyrics are revised — “the only love I’ve ever known” is now “the only woman I ever cared for that much” on “After All This Time.” When Crowell revisits Seger’s hit, all but the final verse is scrapped — and what’s left is spoken, but for the chorus. The song’s tone of bravado is replaced by self-examination, a grown-up ruminating on reckless youth. 
“There were cases where I didn’t do the best job I could do writing a song,” Crowell said. “That is the way I always felt about ‘Shame on the Moon,’ so I rewrote it. … Just because it’s on a record doesn’t mean it’s over.” 
Crowell used a famous story about another artist to make his point. 
“Somebody went to the national museum in Spain, and noticed an artist tweaking a canvas that was hanging there. Someone said, ‘That’s Picasso, he’s just working on that thing.’ It was a painting that had been there for 15 years or so. … I’m not comparing myself to Picasso, but I am talking about the artist’s process.”
Looking back on that early period, Crowell feels his singing prowess kept him from becoming an arena-level star. On the other hand, he’s avoided the problem of being forced to do hits every time he plays; artistically, he’s always moving forward. 
His output since 2001’s The Houston Kid — an autobiographical album that kickstarted him into becoming a writer with the publication of Chinaberry Sidewalks 10 years later — has been rich and varied.
His recorded output since then has outpaced his earlier work, and he’s achieved more recognition.  With writer Mary Karr, he made Kin, and recruited several heavyweights including Lucinda Williams and his ex-guitarist Vince Gill to help out. A pair of duo albums with Emmylou Harris made the top 10, along with doing solid tour box office. Crowell never stops creating, and in a strange way, not becoming the next Eddie Rabbit in the ’80s has helped his cause.
“If I defined myself a little more as a vocalist, I would have had a different career,” he said. “The audience I have [is] quite happy with me to focus more on my recent work rather than dredging up the hits from the past. They seem grateful when I throw them out there in live shows, but for the most part ... they’re with me based on where I am right now. I always thought, for the last 20 years, if I couldn’t hold an audience’s attention with the work that I’m doing now, then I should step down. Which is another way of saying that I never wanted to be an oldies kind of act.” 

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