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Rodney Crowell:
Diamond and Dirt
And
Houston Kid

Review by Steven Stone
Click here to e-mail reviewer

 Rodney Crowell Diamond and Dirt      Rodney Crowell Houston Kid

CD Stock Number: Various (See Ratings Below)

 

  Rodney Crowell used to be a young hot-shot singer and songwriter. He put out a string of successful albums on the Columbia label until his personal and professional life hit some rough spots. His last Columbia album was aptly titled Life is Messy. It was co-produced by Jon Leventhal who went on to marry Crowell's ex-wife, Rosanne Cash. After a pair of albums on MCA that did not move the sort of numbers required to remain "hot country" staple, Crowell dropped out of sight. He has resurfaced with a self-produced release The Houston Kid for Sugarhill records. It's easily his best release in years, and perhaps his best ever.

What makes Houston Kid so special? Simply, its honesty. Crowell has always been able to write catchy tunes, but often his lyrics weren't any deeper than they had to be. Here he digs down far enough to almost bury himself. The album opens with an acoustic guitar chopping away at a boogie beat while Crowell attacks "Rain came down in endless sheets of thunder...." And he doesn't let up 'till he admits, "I know love is all I need, that's all I know..." In between he tells tales of an abusive father, a young hustler who dies of AIDs and his twin's growth of compassion, and a hold-up man who buries his booty in the wrong place. Perhaps the most daring musical coup is getting his ex-father-in-law, Johnny Cash, to sing on a song called "I Walk the Line". No, this is not the "I Walk the Line", but a new song Crowell wrote about his experience of first hearing Johnny Cash's version of the song. Crowell admits it's like asking Johnny to paint a moustache on his own Mona Lisa.

Super-guitarist and long-time accomplice Steuart Smith plays and co-produces several cuts here. Crowell is joined by Michael Rhodes on bass, Paul Leim on drums and percussion, and John Cowen on harmony vocals. Four different studios were used and the whole mélange was mastered by Hank Williams at Mastermix in Nashville. The final results sound as good as anything Crowell has ever recorded, even going back to the days of the old Enactron mobile recording truck.

It's ironic that the same week that I received Houston Kid from Sugarhill, I got a copy of the new re-release of Diamonds and Dirt from Columbia's Legacy division. This album was Crowell's most successful commercial release; five cuts that became number one singles. In 1988 Crowell was on top of the country charts most of the year, touring with a band he shared with his wife Rosanne Cash. Twelve years after it's initial release, Diamonds and Dirt still sounds smokin'. This slick urban rockabilly is the sort of kick up your heels music that makes "Hot Country" radio tolerable. Steuart Smith's sizzling guitar licks coupled with Crowell's catchy tunes and honky tonk lyrics makes this a tasty confection.

In addition to all the material on the original release, Columbia included three songs from the Diamonds and Dirt sessions that never made it on the album. "I've Got MY Pride But I Got To Feed The Kids" is a wonderfully retro Bakersfield elbow-bender, while "It's Lonely Out" is a dark brooding number that would never have gotten ANY airplay back in 1988. "Lies Don't Lie" is an Eagles-like cynical little ditty that is more rock and roll than country.

Reissue producer Bob Irwin and mastering engineer Vic Anesini do a fine job of freshening up the sound of what was already a very good sounding album. Now it is the sonic equal of any of the current crop of slick big-budget high-tech Nashville releases.

I guess if I was only going to buy one Rodney Crowell album this week I would choose the new Rodney over the old Rodney. But if you want to know where someone is going, you have to know where they have been, so I would most likely go back and buy Diamonds and Dirt a couple of days after getting Houston Kid. Rodney Crowell albums are like a certain brand of potato chips; you can not stop with just one.

 

Diamond and Dirt
Columbia Legacy
Sound Quality: 85
Enjoyment: 95

 

Houston Kid
Sugarhill Records
SUG-CD-1065
Sound Quality: 90
Enjoyment: 95

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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