Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Rodney Crowell and Jim Lauderdale

Rodney Crowell – Triage

Triage is a great title, a word meaning to have a looksie and diagnose an illness. Rodney’s done a lot of triaging in his life, getting to the nub of life and love and stuff. His recent interview with Holler Country notes that Americana, the genre in which Rodney operates, ‘at its best is the kind of music which requires you to stop and think’. That’s less good if you want to get on the radio, where the adverts come first, but if you want to make ‘music for the sake of music’, then call him Americana. 30 years ago Rodney had a fine run of hits which made his label money but now he is his own man.  He turned 71 on August 7 and his friends in music will have reached out and said hey, including Bob Harris who turned 75 this year.

After a soft opening minute to the album, Don’t Leave Me Now clatters into life following the first chorus as Rodney seeks to correct his wrongs: ‘Life has very simple laws to profit from the pain you cause’ is the kind of line Rodney’s mentor Guy Clark would write. I think Guy’s influence is on Here Goes Nothing, with winding verses that take us into Rodney’s head – ‘Perhaps I’ll find forgiveness for the things I can’t undo…The things that really matter have no tether to the past’ – and a strongly melodic chorus. Like a really pretty sculpture, Rodney has carved this song as if in stone.

The title track never mentions the word ‘triage’ but is an apt title for a song which diagnoses what love is: ‘A chance to do the right thing when there’s no one keeping tabs’ is his conclusion, via words like ‘gossip column news’, ‘self-righteous’ and ‘dribs and drabs’. This is degree-level songwriting that won’t get on the radio, nor should it.

The single was Something Has To Change where, along with a chanted chorus, he sings how ‘it’s greed, not money, through with evil works’. I love the way Rodney denies his preparedness for the modern world with an ‘emphatically no!’ which follows a muted trumpet solo.

Meanwhile, here are some words used in the soft, philosophical speak-sung protest song Transient Global Amnesia Blues: ‘fog bank on the Thames’, ‘faux silk pansy’, ‘would that I were born again’, ‘the rainbow eucalyptus’, ‘adios amigo’. It namechecks Bob Dylan’s album Love and Theft, and it’s about the only song that actively has a footnote in the middle of it! Dylan would be proud of Girl on the Street, a two-character story with three long verses full of pathos and spite that is far better than that other homeless anthem Another Day in Paradise.

Rodney namechecks himself (‘The name is Crowell, no harm no foul’) on One Little Bird, a toe-tappin’ meditation on ageing and dealing with one’s lot. He allows himself a full list on the throwaway I’m All About Love, which includes various Bible verses, Greta Thunberg (pronounced in the correct way) and Jessica Biel. It reminds me of those empty frothy tracks on The White Album, which are necessary in as much as you would miss them if you took them off the album.

It’s needed because of wordy tracks like the closer, This Body Isn’t All There Is To Who I Am, which ends with the line ‘Just for today, Namaste, no regrets’ and I think dares the listener to carpe the diem. I hope Rodney comes to play his mature Americana to UK audiences soon.

Jim Lauderdale – Hope

Like Willie Nelson, Jim Lauderdale puts out an album a year for a devoted fanbase who like well-crafted songs. As singer/songwriters go, like Steve Earle he bends towards the latter in that pair, and is able to shift shapes into several sounds.

In the opening few songs he reminds listeners of the blues (The Opportunity To Help Somebody Through It), Neil Young (Sister Horizon) and Willie Nelson (The Brighter Side of Lonely). There are also elements of The Rolling Stones on Brave One and, on both the spectacular Don’t You Dream Anymore and We Fade In We Fade Out, Lucinda Williams.

The tempo tunes are Here’s To Hoping, which has some euphoric mandolin and saxophone, and closing track Joyful Noise, which sends the listener off with a gospel singalong.

The quality control is high. When you’ve written hundreds, probably thousands, of songs you need to keep the occupation fun, and that seems to have happened on the folky Mushrooms Are Growing After the Rain. The production choices on Breathe Real Slow match the lyric, which cautions that you need to breathe slowly when bitten by a snake, while there’s a jazz club, Van Morrison vibe to When Searching for Answers, which has the same post-chorus as the INXS ballad Never Tear Us Apart.

I’m sorry that most of this write-up has been comparing Jim to other voices, but a man who has written songs cut by George Strait and Lee Ann Womack knows how to make his voice bend to those of others.

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