Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Grant Johnson at Good Danny's, Austin, Texas
The songs that you're about to hear Rodney Crowell perform solo, with a single acoustic guitar, on a quiet summer morning in Texas, started as collaborations with best-selling author Mary Karr (of "the Liar's Club" fame). Both were born in a part of the state "a few years and about 100 miles apart in the same swampy, goforsaken stretch of East Texas Ringworm Belt in the age right before air conditioning." The connection is one that Karr acknowledges in a lengthy introduction in the liner notes, explaining how the album - featuring guest vocalists such as Norah Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Roseanne Cash and Lee Ann Womack - came to fruition. It's that approximation of location, that era of time, that informed them greatly, as both a career songwriter in Crowell's case and a career writer in Karr's. The ways that people did things, the ways in which they behaved and the way that they talked was as important to them as creators and artists as anything else in their lives.
As Karr writes, explaining the reason for calling the album and the project Kin, "Unlikely soil for art. Yet from it, we've settled down and raised a record, one we called Kim because the affinity between us was so deep. From the git-go we worked like brother and sister. And over the years we traded places a little we got zipped into each others' skins: Rodney turning poet memoirist, me getting to play songwriter. It's also Kin because the songs are about the people we love big, yet intermittently want to drag behind our cars - mostly the same people, of course: relatives. It's also a love story to the idiom of our homes, for nobody talks like people down there do. When my daddy beat somebody in a bar brawl, he 'stomped a mudhole in his ass.' A curvy woman had a butt 'like two bulldogs fighting in a bag,' not - strangely enough - a bad thing."
These songs by Crowell and Karr diverge in so many directions, actually just into so many different families, all of which, we could picture struggling to get by, struggling to make it out of the loneliness and into some less sweaty clothing. We can picture them putting on a face, throwing a smile where one shouldn't belong. They are lives held together by the little details that, were they not here, everything would be in complete shambles and you'd just have to shovel these people off the floor and throw one of those celebrations of life, though the celebration would be brief and sparsely attended. These are people who like to think that they used to drink alone, but still probably do more than they'd like to admit. They miss people they still love and they've tried to make things less ruinous, but it just doesn't work all that well.
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