Sunday, August 10, 2014

"Tarpaper Sky" - Rodney Crowell hits one out of the park

When Jack Gallagher invited me to be a guest on his and Tommy Dunbar's "5 Songs" podcast last year, I made the comment that "the best song ever written is still out there, somewhere."  For me, that's what has always made music so exciting - there's just so damn much of it, and you just never know where your passion might take you.  While exciting, it's also a bit scary, because at the end of the day there's just too much music - you can't ever hope but to scratch the surface.  And if you're like me (and you probably aren't, and that's probably a good thing), there's always a nagging worry at the back of your mind that you have to be missing something.

On Friday, I was perusing a Rolling Stone article that they had posted on their Facebook page, something along the lines of "the 26 best albums you probably haven't heard in 2014."  Immediately, I was thinking "oh shit, here we go again."  I got out my pen and paper, wrote down a few that sounded interesting, and a couple that screamed "oh man, how did I miss that?"  And on Saturday, I trekked down to the local record store, where I was able to find one that fell into the latter category - "Tarpaper Sky," the latest release from Rodney Crowell.  I haven't bought a lot of Crowell over the years, but it's not as if I don't know who he is, and some of the great songs he's written in the past.  And I really enjoyed his duet album last year with Emmylou Harris, and there's no denying that "When the Master Calls the Roll," the song he co-wrote with (ex-wife) Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal for her album "The River & the Thread," is a masterpiece - one of the best songs in recent memory.

But I have to admit that nothing prepared me for how good an album "Tarpaper Sky" would be. After years of having learned my lesson I've tried to shy away from making spur of the moment pronouncements, but this just might end up being my favorite album of the year - and it will almost certainly end up in the top five.  On "Tarpaper Sky" Crowell shows his prowess as both a performer and a songwriter; there isn't a song on the album that doesn't contain at least one musical or lyrical delight.  There's even a song dedicated to John Denver ("Oh What a Beautiful World") that manages to be sentimental without being corny, and gets to the essence of what made Denver such an appealing performer to so many.

Like Patty Griffin, Crowell made his name as a songwriter before he hit it big as a singer and bandleader, and his skill with the pen is evident throughout "Tarpaper Sky," as he demonstrates a way with words that rivals someone like Elvis Costello or Hal David.  Some examples:

You're every curled rosebud
Enchanting my eye
Each turned up coat collar
And your gaze slides by
There's a sanded down moon
In a tarpaper sky
God I'm missing you

"God I'm Missing You"

Has anybody seen her now?
Pray tell me what you hear
'Cause I just can't get over
How she shed me like a tear

"Somebody's Shadow"

You tore through my life like a tornado looking
for a trailer park
We met on a Monday, here it is Sunday
It happened so fast, they said it wouldn't last
Yeah, but what do they know?
Why can't they say so now?

"Frankie Please"

It's great stuff.  And here's hoping that the RS article helps a few others discover it.

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