Close Ties Rodney Crowell New West Rodney Crowell was drawn to Music City in 1972 with one song he had confidence in (’ Til I Gain Control Again) and a truckload of insecurities that still weigh him down. He continues to defer to Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt and many more besides, as detailed in the self-explanatory closer here, Nashville 1972, yet the quality of his songs shows he is every bit their equal. Country music still looms large in Crowell’s arsenal, but not for the first time he shows he is equally at home with blues, folk and rootsy rock. Largely biographical, Close Ties makes for compelling if occasionally uncomfortable listening. East Houston Blues is like a page from his memoir Chinaberry Sidewalks, the grit of the lyric balanced by the beauty of Tommy Emmanuel’s guitar. Life Without Susanna reveals the complications of Crowell’s relationship with Clark’s wife, Susanna, with a pain that shows there are wounds not close to healing. Clearly he has made some kind of peace with ex-wife Rosanne Cash, the subject of his musical public apology Forgive Me Annabelle. Recording together for the first time since 1990, Cash appears on It Ain’t Over Yet along with John Paul White. The centrepiece is I Don’t Care Anymore, where an ageing Lothario is looking back at what he’s left behind on his way to now. Dismissive of the shallow man he once was, the character confesses that “40 odd years later all my best cards have been played”.
Like the man in the song, though, who feels a stirring when talking to his neighbour’s wife, Crowell remains as potent an artist today as that young dreamer who moved from Texas to Tennessee all those years ago. African wind instruments. In fresh and compelling opening cuts Chech el Khater and Mamchout, Yahyaoui’s forceful vocals and loutar (an oud-like instrument) vie with Berber flute (gasba) and bendir (frame drum). In later tracks Dek Biya and Roddih, the singer competes for supremacy with a higher pitched bagpipe-like instrument (zokra) and pounding bass drum. A stomping dance song ( Wazzaa) follows several less frenetic numbers. In a folk-oriented sign-off piece ( Sidi el Kadhi), Yahyaoui’s voice is accompanied solely by gasba. Targ is an album in which tribal tradition and musical modernity are finely balanced.