Rodney Crowell,
The Outsider
(Columbia, 2005)

Rodney Crowell is a proven songwriter, having begun his career back in the 1970s as part of Emmylou Harris's Hot Band and written some of her more memorable material from that era, such as "'Til I Can Gain Control Again" and "Tulsa Queen." Whilst his knack for creating great songs is undeniable, I struggle to warm to his own recordings. In particular on this recording, I find the country-rock sound a bit repetitive across all the tracks. There are moments lyrically that should jump out and grab you, but for me, it just failed to muster this type of connection.

There are several tracks on The Outsider with some rather feisty lyrics, but the performances seem to lack the necessary conviction to give them real bite. "The Obscenity Prayer" tells of all the vacuous wants and needs of the modern western world and contrasts them cleverly with casual references to some real hard-hitting issues.

The lyrics perfectly illustrate the paradox of a world that cares so much about material belongings yet remains indifferent about those issues that really matter: "I can search for truth some other time / but right now I just want to get what's mine." Crowell also voices his disdain for U.S. politics in "Don't Get Me Started," but simultaneously attempts to appease his patriotic countrymen, which actually turns the song into a bit of a cop-out: "I was born in America and I'm proud of that fact / I wish the rest of the world would get off our back." Both of these songs have powerful lyrics, but the performance lacks balls!

The classiest moment on the album is Crowell's duet with the ever sublime Emmylou Harris, on Bob Dylan's "Shelter From the Storm." The change of key between Crowell's and Harris's verses is not so subtle and jars slightly on the ear, but it's hard to deny the class that Harris's vocals bring to all that she graces. The final track, "We Can't Turn Back Now," provides some respite from the bland sound, having a slight Celtic feel to it, courtesy of John Mock's concertina and tin whistle and Jonathan Yudkin's fiddle.

I don't want to be overly critical here. The Outsider is a fine collection of strong material, but Crowell's vocals and the overall production don't hit the mark for me -- I just don't hear any passion.

by Mike Wilson
10 February 2007

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