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Index of Artists

Rodney Crowell

Biography:

Rodney Crowell: Sex & Gasoline

Leaning into the wind

Last January Rodney Crowell rented a house in my little town in Montana just to feel the cold. He had been here before, but always in the summertime, when Livingston is a temperate and sociable outpost for writers and actors and artists on the banks of the Yellowstone River. But as soon as the first blizzard rolls in most of the amateurs sensibly depart for Tucson or Key West. By January, the coldest month, the local population is down to seeds and stems. That’s when Rodney and his wife, Claudia Church, arrived for a long visit. He wanted to work on his memoirs, now nearly finished, and he wanted to experience a real Montana winter, the kind he’d read about in Ivan Doig’s sweeping novels. The boy from the Houston swamps figured he might learn something new in the frozen north. Rodney was disappointed when a chinook kicked up from the west and the weather turned mild. Snowdrifts melted into puddles.

"Global warming ruined my vision quest," he said. But he perked up when the winds gusted to 80 mph and started tipping over trucks on the interstate. He took to walking on the levee every morning, leaning into the teeth of that wind, surrendering to its indifferent anger – a happy man.

You may sense an analogy coming around about now, and here it is: As an artist, Rodney Crowell is all skin and membrane. He wants to feel everything – sucking the world in and filtering it out again through words and music. It’s a precarious way to live, but it works for him. You can feel that edge in his latest album, Sex and Gasoline.

The CD was recorded in quick live sessions with the fabled producer, Joe Henry, a brilliant musician and songwriter in his own right. (I refer to you the attached email dialogue between Rodney and Joe to learn about the genesis of the album and the story of their inspired collaboration.)

Sex and Gasoline is a collection of songs about women –- lovers, daughters, friends, Madonnas and whores -- often told from an imagined female point of view. A Montana blizzard couldn’t put Rodney Crowell in any more peril, not in this sexual/political climate. But his craftsmanship is so fine-tuned that he manages to pull off a song like "The Rise and Fall of Intelligent Design" that begins: "If I could have just one wish, maybe for an hour, I’d want to be a woman, and feel that phantom power…."

Rodney says that "Intelligent Design" and the title song, "Sex and Gasoline," wrap up a cycle of what he calls "manifestos" – songs of social commentary that grew out of his struggle to come to terms with the new millennium. But it’s the second stanza of "Intelligent Design" that reveals the theme he’s been exploring all along: "Maybe I could find out if I’m a half decent man, or if I’m just a joke…" In the end, by adopting a woman’s point of view, he tackles what it means to be a father, a husband, a friend. A man. It’s no accident that the album lands on the simple, wry and beautiful song, "Closer to Heaven." It starts out as a rant by a grumpy imaginary narrator and breaks into a heartfelt catalogue of the things that matter most to Rodney Crowell: "I love my friends, I love my wife. Four little babies, are the light of my life…"

Like I said, it’s dangerous to own a heart this wide-open. But these kinds of epiphanies have been Rodney Crowell’s trademark since the early 1970’s, when he migrated from Texas to Nashville to learn to be a songwriter. The strength of his writing, singing and guitar playing earned him a spot with Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band and launched his career.

Here are some things you probably already know about Rodney Crowell. In 1977, he formed his own group, The Cherry Bombs, and in 1978 released his first album, Ain’t Living Long Like This.

Sex And Gasoline

Sex And Gasoline
SPCD 1338
Genre: Roots
Released: 30 September 2008
  1. Sex And Gasoline (Listen to mp3 clip) (4:29)
  2. Moving Work Of Art (4:31)
  3. The Rise And Fall Of Intelligent Design (4:29)
  4. Truth Decay (4:30)
  5. I Want You #35 (Listen to mp3 clip) (3:31)
  6. I've Done Everything I Can (5:34)
  7. Who Do You Trust (4:08)
  8. The Night's Just Right (3:52)
  9. Funky And The Farm-boy (4:09)
  10. Forty Winters (4:44)
  11. Closer To Heaven (Listen to mp3 clip) (5:21)

Reviews:

Edmonton Journal
By Peter North
Thriving personal life helps shape tunesmith's fine new album.