With 'Acoustic Classics' Rodney Crowell Revisits His Repertoire in a Warm, Intimate Setting

Texas songwriting legend Rodney Crowell lovingly re-records 12 of his best songs. Turn up the volume and hear a master at work.

Acoustic Classics
Rodney Crowell


13 July 2018

The Godfather of Americana. The Houston Kid. The Poet Laureate of Country Music. For decades, Rodney Crowell has assumed these monikers (OK, I made up that last one, but it fits) and garnered countless accolades for his singing, songwriting, and musicianship, and while his name may not be on the tip of the average rock music fan's tongue, it should be. The Texas native may stick primarily to the country, folk, and bluegrass lanes, but the songs he writes have a timeless appeal that transcends genres. It's not all aw-shucks odes to farmer's daughters and pickup trucks – he may be the only songwriter alive whose songs have name-dropped everyone from Tom Waits to the Dixie Chicks to Seamus Heaney to Epictetus.

With that in mind, Crowell's latest career move may initially come off as lazy (or at the very least, a bit of laurel-resting), but it sure gives his songs the opportunity to shine. Acoustic Classics is pretty self-explanatory: 12 songs from Crowell's arsenal – ones he's written for himself as well as others - re-recorded in a loose, acoustic setting. It's somewhat reminiscent of Randy Newman's recent Songbook series in that these classic songs are reimagined in a new light and given the opportunity to be rediscovered by longtime fans (or perhaps discovered by new ones). But they also serve as resume bullets for anyone who needs proof that Crowell is a top-shelf songwriter with sharp and enduring tunes.

Forgoing the more predictable route of simply a voice and a single acoustic guitar, Crowell enlisted a small unplugged combo to accompany him through this winning set, and the results are spectacular. Crowell's still in fine voice, and the band is top-shelf. The breezy shuffle of "Earthbound", originally from 2003's Fate's Right Hand, is an upbeat, reflective essay on the joys of a long life well-lived. "With each new day that passes / I'm in need of thicker glasses," he sings, "But it's all OK." He's getting older, but we all are, and that's life.

It's a delight to hear the songs he wrote that were hits for other artists. "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight", one of the album's high points, was originally a smash country hit for the Oak Ridge Boys, but it fits the original songwriter like a glove. Using the song's locale as a musical cue, it's transformed into a rollicking New Orleans-style campfire singalong, with accordion and fiddle providing the perfect accompaniment. "Shame on the Moon" was a huge pop hit for Bob Seger in 1982, but Crowell reclaims it in his own inimitable style, offering up the verses in spoken word, while angelic female vocals take the choruses.

Swinging between ballads and up-tempo barn burners is a common theme of Acoustic Classics, but it never seems awkward or badly paced. "She's Crazy for Leaving", the honky-tonk classic from Crowell's 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt (which garnered him five number-one country singles) is followed seamlessly by the aching beauty of "After All This Time" (another Diamonds & Dirt hit). "Ain't Livin' Long Like This" (the title track from his 1978 debut album and a sizeable hit for Waylon Jennings) falls somewhere in the middle in terms of tempo and feel – it's got a loose, funky swagger and a first-person bad-boy narrative ("You looked for trouble, and you found it son," the song begins, "Straight down the barrel of a lawman's gun").

On the closing track "Please Remember Me" (co-written by Will Jennings, from Crowell's 1995 album Jewel of the South), Crowell sings a fond farewell to a love with no regrets and no harsh feelings. "When all our tears have reached the sea," he sings in a world-weary style reminiscent of John Hiatt, "a part of you will live in me." The harmony-filled chorus is sure to bring goosebumps to any listener. "You'll find better love / Strong as it ever was / Deep as a river runs / Warm as the morning sun / But please remember me." Damn, Rodney. I think I have something in my eye.

Acoustic Classics serves multiple purposes. Not only is it a valuable reminder of the artistic gifts Rodney Crowell has bestowed on the world, but it's also a chance to hear classic songs in fresh surroundings. It's unassuming yet undeniably gorgeous. Is Crowell resting on his laurels? Maybe, but he sure deserves it.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.