Rodney Crowell: Sex & Gasoline


On his most recent albums, Rodney Crowell brandishes his keen intellect as much as a defense mechanism as a means of skewering sacred cows. But allowing Joe Henry, a songwriter of no means skills himself, to produce Sex and Gasoline, Crowell more readily opens up his heart, as if he already doesn’t exactly wear it on his sleeve.

Since his days in Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band through the autobiographical likes of 2001’s The Houston Kid, Rodney Crowell has developed a smart style of songwriting in which he effectively juxtaposes contemporary buzzwords and universal icons. The title song works this way as a strong acoustic rhythm guitar from Doyle Bramhall III, insistently propels along the lilting melody, while bass from David Piltch and drums by Jay Bellerose, plus the piano of Patrick Warren, drop in and out to create almost indiscernible drama.

Approaching his subjects from an oblique angle, Crowell manages to illuminate eternal truths without overstatement, pretension or pedantry. The symbology of “Moving Work of Art,” for instance, is effectively open to interpretation. The arrangement here also mirrors the deliberate ambiguity of the tune as a muted steel guitar from Greg Leisz weaves in and out of a mesmerizing quiet beat that bears no small resemblance to a country blues.

On a narrative like “Punky and The Farmboy,” Rodney Crowell sounds like a contemporary folksinger and, for anyone hearing this album honestly enough to acknowledge the passage of time like the author does on “Forty Winters,” he becomes a voice of conscience. As an equally credible (though ever so slightly curmudgeonly) voice of reason during “Closer to Heaven”, this man knows how to couched his provocative perceptions in tones sufficiently charming (and musicianship sufficiently winning) to invite close repeated listenings.

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