Friday, April 11, 2008

Mt. Rushmore is coming to town

If somebody ever decides to create a Mt. Rushmore for great American songwriters, Rodney Crowell is going to up there. Right there next to his mentors Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, just over to the right of Steve Earle (everybody is to the right of Steve Earle), a couple of spots over from Bob Dylan. No kidding.

Rodney Crowell is one of the great ones, the real deal, the rare breed of cat who has had both great commercial success and profound artistic integrity. A singer and songwriter who can make hits and make art, who can sell but not sell out.
He’s coming to Sisters for a Starry Nights Concert on Saturday, April 26. If you hurry, you can still get a ticket.

Seeing an artist of this caliber in an intimate acoustic setting is an unbelievable privilege (especially considering that Crowell, along with all the other Starry Nights artists is donating his time). Once again, Sisters is providing an opportunity out of all proportion to its size.

I first discovered Rodney Crowell when I was about 15 years old, when I heard Emmylou Harris’ version of his “Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight.” Crowell was the leader of Emmylou’s Hot Band and she did a bunch of his songs.
I thought “Leavin’ Louisiana” was such a cool song, it may have been the first time I looked at a songwriter credit. I had to know who wrote that thing. My band, The Anvil Blasters, keeps that song in our set list, so I’ve been playing it for, what, 27 years.

Virtually every one of my favorite artists has covered a Rodney Crowell song for the simple reason that he’s produced a huge body of great work, song after song that makes you laugh, makes you stomp your foot, makes you think or just rips your heart right out of your chest.

He made it big as a performer in his own right in 1985 with a record called “Diamonds & Dirt,” which produced five number-one hits on country radio. This was during what Steve Earle calls the Great Nashville Credibility Scare of the mid-’80s during which labels were signing real songwriters who were producing songs of lasting value that also happened to turn into radio hits.

Rodney Crowell is still turning out hit songs for other artists, some of the rare gems to be found on heavily-formatted country radio today. More importantly, he’s still creating fine records of his own.

The autobiographical “The Houston Kid, the social commentary and wrestling with creative and personal growth on “The Outsider” and “Fate’s Right Hand,” stand up with his best work and showcase an artist who, far from resting on his laurels, keeps pushing, taking rhyme, rhythm and melody into new territory with torrents of wild but knife-sharp imagery.

The guy can write — and he’s also a soulful and engaging performer.

Get over to Leavitt’s and get a ticket for this show. The fact that you’re helping keep arts and music programs in Sisters schools is gravy.

Jim Cornelius, Editor

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