Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Brett Allen
The way that Rodney Crowell comes across is as a man who lives modestly or simply, in a cove, off the coast of a sparkling ocean. He seems like a man who's young for his age and wise beyond his years. You imagine that he's done most everything, met nearly everyone and is not phased by the winds or the tides, but rather goes along with things, noting to himself that things will iron themselves out one way or another by the time the curtains fall for the last time. The 60-year-old songwriter looks like someone who rarely gets unnerved, keeping a balance and a chill about him whenever the times get tough or there's a blowout. The truth of the matter is that Crowell was born in Texas and lives in Nashville, so the ocean is out of the picture, but his personality -- when you're just talking with him -- exists in contrast to the way that his mind if perpetually churning. When you listen to a typical Crowell song, you're hearing a man come to grips with the clashing dichotomy of so much beauty coexisting with so much that stands in direct opposition to all that makes it beautiful. He has a fine eye for those opposing forces that essentially enhance the beauty of something, but it never becomes any easier to understand. He's spent a goodly amount of time trying to understand sadness and trying to deconstruct the feeling of disappointment that still exists even when there's something about it that is undeniably warming and perfect. He sings of the bittersweet the way that it is in definition, jointly appreciated for its good parts and its bad parts, the salt playing off the taste of the sugars and vice versa, to make the experience taste interesting, if not completely pleasing. He sings like a weathered man who has been through the fires, has the burns to show for it, but is able to keep them hidden under sleeves and hats. Crowell seems certain about many things, for instance, his love for a home that he always thinks about, that he loves for its runny eggs and its molasses-like action. He sings about it on "Jewel of the South": "Are the cotton fields as wet as snow/Sweet magnolia blossoms grow/Big moon shining like an ice cream cone/Back down south where I belong/Where the river flows like milk and honey/The nights are slow and the eggs are runny/I wouldn't mind sitting in a rocking chair/Back down there/Jewel of the south/Cross my heart and shut my mouth." It seems that the line about crossing his heart and shutting his mouth is a take on the thought that it might be best to not analyze his love too closely for fear of killing it, strangling the life clean from it. He looks into the "rise and fall of the clocks on the wall" and of those first tastes of joy in "Beautiful World" on this session, but he lets them have their own space, observed casually just in case them might get spooked and bolt for the woods.