Review: Rodney Crowell – Close Ties (New West / Warner Music Canada)

In listening to the latest masterpiece from treasured Americana songwriter Rodney Crowell, it’s evident that mortality is on his mind. At 66 years of age, you can’t blame him, especially since no one truly knows when their number will be called.

No doubt fuelling Crowell’s contemplatively excellent new album is the immeasurable loss of his mentor, fellow Texan songwriter Guy Clark, last May. While some artists sing from a remote or detached point of view in their songs, Crowell shares things from his vantage point, whether it’s recalling how Clark and Steve Earle came into his life in “Nashville 1972” or issuing a mea culpa on “Forgive Me Annabelle.”  Singing of Clark’s late wife Susanna on “Life Without Susanna,” Crowell sings of struggling to find his place on a “big blue knuckleball free-floating somewhere out in space,” while on “East Houston Blues,” Crowell cops to being “before the judge one too many times.” Ex-wife Rosanne Cash and former Civil Wars member John Paul White join the songwriter on the cautiously optimistic and spiritually uplifting “It Ain’t Over Yet,” while Sheryl Crow proves a worthy duet partner on the understated “I’m Tied To Ya.”

Most endearing about this record is the fact that Crowell isn’t trying to gloss over any of life’s challenges. He confronts them, warts and all, to great effect throughout Close Ties.