RODNEY CROWELL – Close Ties (New West Records 6354)

Close TiesWhile I’ve long been aware of Rodney Crowell’s talents as a songwriter, going back at least as far as Emmylou Harris’s 1975 recording of ‘Bluebird Wine’, his songs have always reached me as interpreted by other A-listers. So I jumped at the chance to take a closer look at his album Close Ties, due for release on the 7th April. And I wasn’t disappointed.

While the number of musicians participating in one or more of these ten tracks is too large for a complete listing here, it’s worth mentioning one or two names, their presence giving some idea of the regard in which Crowell is held by his fellow musicians. Besides vocal contributions from John Paul White, Rosanne Cash and Sheryl Crow, there are instrumental contributions from Tommy Emmanuel, Steuart Smith, and Jordan Lehning (who co-produced with Kim Buie) and others.

But there are also ghostly Nashville legends walking these lyrics, such as Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Dennis Sanchez – could ‘Newberry’ in ‘Nashville 1972’ be Mickey Newbury? – but also survivors like Willie Nelson and Buck White. Crowell has been quoted as saying “It’s a loose concept album … and the concept is related to how you tell stories about yourself.” That may sound self-indulgent, but this is not just a personal memoir but an insider view of a somewhat alternative Nashville that has given modern music some wonderful moments. If this suggests an easy listening experience, it isn’t meant to: Crowell’s often sardonic and sometimes bitter wordplay makes few concessions to “the petty politics of bliss“. It demands (and amply repays) close attention.

Here’s the customary track-by-track listing (all tracks were written by Rodney Crowell except where noted below):

  1. Crowell has expressed a hope that “my study of the blues is starting to show up in my music.” ‘East Houston Blues’ is by no means a 12-bar, but the lyric has a hard-times lyric sung feel over a blues-y shuffle beat, benefiting from Tommy Emmanuel’s classy acoustic lead guitar.
  2. ‘Reckless’ is a slow, introspective song, with clever but understated strings behind the acoustic guitars, harmonium and minimal percussion.
  3. In contrast, ‘Life Without Susanna’ has much more of a rock feel, with a hard-edged lyric about “A self-sure bastard and a stubborn bitch/Locked in a deadly game of chess“.
  4. ‘It Ain’t Over Yet’ is closer to country rock, with excellent additional vocals from John Paul White and Roseanne Cash. The uncredited harmonica play-out is sparse yet haunting.
  5. ‘I Don’t Care Anymore’ chronicles disillusion over a riff that reminds me a little of early-ish Stones, with a touch of Chuck Berry’s ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ towards the end of a harsh lyric.
  6. ‘I’m Tied To Ya’ was written by Rodney Crowell and Michael McGlynn, a ballad that also features attractive vocals from Sheryl Crow.
  7. ‘Forgive Me Annabelle’ is another ballad with piano and strings predominant in the accompaniment.
  8. ‘Forty Miles From Nowhere’ is another slow song that hints at a tragic backstory – “If there’s anything that we can do rings hollow down a telephone line“.
  9. ‘Storm Warning’ was written by Rodney Crowell and Mary Karr: it’s a rockier number, but maintains a mood of foreboding and very bad weather. “Ninety-five miles of twisted aftermath…
  10. The CD finishes with ‘Nashville 1972’, a look back at his arrival in “Old School Nashville“: a simple, almost folky song, though I could almost imagine Kenny Rogers singing it.

When I hear or read of a songwriter talking about poets and ‘poetic sensibility’, my first impulse is usually to turn the page or put on a different CD. But in this case, it’s not inappropriate. This isn’t the finely-tuned poetry of great literature – though Crowell can turn a phrase as neatly as any lyric writer I know – but it does have the rough-hewn passion and clear-sighted observation of the best Americana.

David Harley

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artist’s website: www.rodneycrowell.com

‘It Ain’t Over Yet’ – official video:

SOLD OUT 49th CAMBRIDGE FOLK FESTIVAL HAILED AS HUGE SUCCESS

Cam Stage FoxThe 49th Cambridge Folk Festival ended in rousing style on Sunday night in what organisers Cambridge City Council have hailed as a ‘bumper year’.

The Festival was a complete sell out (14,000 total attendees) and included performances from The Mavericks, KT Tunstall, Levellers, The Waterboys, Amadou and Mariam, Steeleye Span, Martin Simpson and Capercaillie plus a range of folk, americana, blues and world music performances across the Festival’s four stages.

Performance highlights included: Bellowhead joining Levellers on stage for a run through the “Levs” The Recruiting Sgt; KT Tunstall performing versions of The White Stripe’s Seven Nation Army performed on a kazoo and a stirring version of Don Henley’s Boys of Summer; the eccentric and electric Bombay Royale performing on stage with a large inflatable elephant; a hilarious kids concert from UK comedic-poet John Hegley; landmark sets from Hertfordshire sisters The Staves who graduated to Stage 1 on their third appearance at the Festival; singer/songwriter Lucy Rose who headlined Thursday’s Stage 2 and US sisters Larkin Poe who’s two sets wowed the Festival audience over the weekend.

As well as the eclectic musical offering on the stages, Festival-goers also enjoyed a range of workshops from a guitar workshop from virtuoso instrumentalist Tommy Emmanuel, reed garland making, how to play Northumbrian pipes, storytelling and children’s instrument making. Attendees were also able to soak up the weekend’s glorious sunshine at the Festival’s duck pond and wilderness areas.

Media partners BBC Radio 2 broadcast two live shows from the Festival with Dermot O’ Leary and Mark Radcliffe both happily posing for photos with delighted Festival goers. Commenting on the Festival, Dermot described the unique and friendly vibe of the event saying that he looks forward to returning in future years. Mark Radcliffe also commented during his live show  that, in his opinion, the audience represented a diverse cross section of ages and was getting younger.  Both shows are available to watch via the BBC’s iPlayer

The Festival’s newest performance area, the 100-capacity ‘ The Den’ was once again a big hit, showcasing some of the hottest rising talent in the folk and acoustic worlds including ‘ones-to-watch’ sets from Common Tongues, CC Smugglers and Hudson Taylor.

Saturday night at the Festival was also brought to a close with the event’s third ever ‘silent ceilidh’ (hosted by Jim Moray) which saw the odd sight of people dancing to traditional jigs and reels whilst  wearing headphones to hear the music.

Festival fans also took to Facebook and Twitter in their thousands throughout the four days and exclusive footage was added throughout the weekend to the Festival’s website, making the event one of the most digitally interactive to date. Interviews and footage are available to view on the Festival’s website.

The Festival also had a great range of Scottish acts which were supported by Creative Scotland.

Sarah Brown, Executive Councillor for Community Wellbeing said, said  ‘2013 has been a bumper year. We are delighted to have once again sold all the tickets for the event in what has been a difficult year for UK Festivals. We’d like to thank all the artists, traders, staff, sponsors, volunteers and of course, the audience for their support and involvement in creating such a great atmosphere and making it such a huge success. We look forward to welcoming everyone again next year for the 50th anniversary in 2014’.

The 2014 Cambridge Folk Festival runs from 31 July to 3 August. Tickets go on sale on Monday 2 December.

The folkmaster also wrote a “day by day blog” that includes media footage from each day. The links to these blogs are below (day 4 blog is still in progress of being written):

http://folking.com/folking-at-cambridge-folk-festival-2013-day-1/
http://folking.com/folking-at-cambridge-folk-festival-2013-day-2/
http://folking.com/folking-at-cambridge-folk-festival-2013-day-3/

Festival web links:

www.cambridgefolkfestival.co.uk
https://www.facebook.com/cambridgefolkfest/
@CamFolkFest