Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Rodney Crowell

  • Ain't Living Long Like This [Warner Bros., 1978] A-
  • Rodney Crowell [Warner Bros., 1981] C+
  • Life Is Messy [Columbia, 1992] Neither
  • The Houston Kid [Sugar Hill, 2001] A-
  • Fate's Right Hand [DMX/Epic, 2003] ***
  • The Outsider [Columbia, 2005] ***
  • Close Ties [New West, 2017] ***

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Ain't Living Long Like This [Warner Bros., 1978]
He's smart, he's soulful, he's got that tragic sense of life--yes, folks, Gram Parsons live on in spirit, right down to Emmylou on harmony. If only the tempos were a little snappier, there might be more than four songs on side two, and chances are that anything extra would be as good as the rest. From "California Earthquake": "You're a partner of the devil and we ain't afraid of him/We'll build ourselves another town so you can tear it down again." A-

Rodney Crowell [Warner Bros., 1981]
Speaking of pop demos, I remember when this boy came on like a rock auteur. Traded it all for a prime single, and got gypped. C+

Life Is Messy [Columbia, 1992] Neither

The Houston Kid [Sugar Hill, 2001]
Big deal. The triple-threat guitarist-songwriter-frontman has been hawking four-on-the-floor country-rock since he came up with Emmylou, and as for the two AIDS songs, where's he been? Except the music has a lightness unmatched on the reissued Life Is Messy and Diamonds and Dirt, or the long-gone Ain't Living Long Like This either. And though there've been hundreds of quasi-autobios like "Telephone Road," their wizardry is in the details: "Skiing in a bar ditch behind a moped/Thirteen stitches on the corner of a sardine can." And coming from a place where once he believed "California gay boys deserve just what they get," AIDS is news to him. The one about his hardworking daddy beating on his long-suffering mama, on the other hand, he's been living with for 50 years. A-

Fate's Right Hand [DMX/Epic, 2003]
Commercial instincts undimmed, he does Americana AC confessionally, thinking hard all the while ("Earthbound," "Preachin' to the Choir"). ***

The Outsider [Columbia, 2005]
One more pissed-off patriot heard from ("The Obscenity Prayer [Give It to Me]," "Don't Get Me Started"). ***

Close Ties [New West, 2017]
67-year-old proves he's still growing in wisdom, especially when he trots out the biographical fallacy ("Nashville 1972," "It Ain't Over Yet") ***

Further Notes:

Distinctions Not Cost-Effective [1980s]: Once this ace writer-producer vied for country-rock auteur, but soon his records sounded more like pop demos. And he was too much the pro to get anywhere on the neotrad gravy train.

See Also