- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

“Any artists worth their salt really want to be evolving; otherwise it just goes static on you,” contends Rodney Crowell, singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer, speaking from his home near Nashville.

“If you’re not growing and evolving as an artist and you just reach that static, then you’re doing it for fame and glory instead of the art.”

Mr. Crowell has been doing it for the art (and a little bit of fame and glory) for more than 30 years. He’ll bring his considerable talents and history to the Barns at Wolf Trap Wednesday night. He’ll also bring his hot, stripped-down, “rock and roll band,” the Outsiders, and a style and attitude that may surprise, but also may entertain many of his past fans.

“Rock and roll band” is Mr. Crowell’s label, and it is part of his concerted effort to outrun the natural label from his past, that of country artist.

“I think the reason I bristle a little bit about being labeled ‘country’ is that I love country music, but it doesn’t exist anymore in a form that I love most,” Mr. Crowell says. He gives today’s popular country music a derisive label of “country pop.”

“Secondly,” Mr. Crowell says, “the records that I was making at the time when I was getting a lot of coverage, I knew them to be inferior to what I would someday be able to do. The records I make now are far superior to the ones I was making when I was getting so much attention.”

It’s hard to argue with an artist’s own assessment of his work, but Mr. Crowell certainly set the bar high for himself. He wrote or co-wrote such country hits as “Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” “Ashes by Now” and “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried.”

His own monster hit album, 1988’s “Diamonds and Dirt” (which he also produced), had five Billboard No. 1 hit songs, all of which he wrote or co-wrote.

Then, in the early ‘90s, Mr. Crowell decided to quit the road for more than five years. At home, he raised the children from his first marriage and nurtured his second one.

In 2001, with a new batch of songs, he returned to the recording studio for the first time in six years. The result, “The Houston Kid,” was a critically acclaimed and distinctly different side of Rodney Crowell. More rootsy and more rock ‘n’ roll than country, it is a look back at the ‘50s and ‘60s of Mr. Crowell’s childhood.

That album was the first of a trilogy. The second, “Fate’s Right Hand,” came out in 2003; the title song won 2004 Song of the Year from the Americana Music Awards. Just as “The Houston Kid” looked back, “Fate’s Right Hand” looked inward at the complexities of living today.

Mr. Crowell’s latest album, “The Outsider” (the album he will feature in his Wolf Trap show and which will be released in June), is, as Mr. Crowell puts it, “looking around.” It’s more politically and socially conscious than most of his past work; many of the songs were written while Mr. Crowell was on tour in Europe last year.

“I was in this sort of expatriate mind-set during an election year. I was eavesdropping on the process from afar as well as having relationships with people who were scratching their heads the same way that I was,” Mr. Crowell says.

A perfect example of this is the biting new rocker “The Obscenity Prayer” with its wonderful list of material possessions. “I was sort of disgusted with how much greed I saw in our culture,” Mr. Crowell says. “So I kind of wanted to go tongue-in-cheek and really poke at that.”

• • •

Legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy, renowned master of the Chicago-style electric blues, will be showing another side of his own when he plays the Birchmere Monday night.

Mr. Guy’s show of acoustic Delta blues guitar originally was scheduled for this past Monday, but the date was moved to accommodate his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Many rock guitar greats, including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, John Mayer and Stevie Ray Vaughan have cited him as one of their biggest influences.

For his current tour, Mr. Guy returns to one of his influences, the late, great Muddy Waters. In 1969, while Mr. Guy was playing electric guitar in one of Mr. Waters’ legendary bands (one that included Pinetop Perkins on piano and Junior Wells on harmonica), he was asked to play backup guitar on the classic Chess Records recording “Muddy Waters, Folksinger.” Mr. Waters went back to his acoustic roots in Mississippi Delta blues and took Buddy Guy with him.

Mr. Guy re-created that earthy style on his Grammy-winning 2003 album, “Blues Singer.” Playing classic songs from the likes of Mr. Waters, John Lee Hooker and Skip James, Mr. Guy showcases his innate ability to feel the blues, even with the understated touch and emotion of earlier times.

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