Rodney Crowell celebrates his latest release, TEXAS, with performances at Cactus Music and the Heights Theater.Photo By Sam Esty Rayner
The Houston kid is coming back. Texas gold, Rodney Crowell, left behind his well-documented and rocky past with Houston many years ago, but has always held onto his roots. Crowell will be back in Houston August 15 to perform at the Heights Theater and celebrate the release of his new album TEXAS that same day.
TEXAS is a celebration of not only Crowell’s home state and its unique culture, but also many of his long and meaningful friendships with artists who share his life experiences and a collective subconscious as Texans. The album features a Who’s Who of Lone Star heroes like Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Billy F Gibbons, Lee Ann Womack, and Steve Earle to name a few.
It may be his twenty-first album, but it’s only the second time he has self released an album on his own RC1 Records, “We’re just a regular record company around here, but I’m just the only artist we’ve signed.” says Crowell.
He admits he didn’t set out to make a collaboration album but it all snowballed after a long awaited hang out with unlikely Texas ally, Ringo Starr. The two teamed up for the track “You’re Only Happy When You’re Miserable” after a mutual friend let Crowell know that Starr was available.
It wasn’t the first time the two artists met; Crowell recalls a time in the ‘70s when, as a member of Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band, he and Starr crossed paths. “It was an all nighter. Ringo just loved old country songs and I knew a bunch of them you know, so that was just a good fun night. The next time we got together was 40 years later.” admits Crowell. When asked if Starr remembered that “fun night” 40 years later Crowell says quickly, “No. I did.”
From there Crowell says he and long time friend Steve Earle decided to finally record the track “Brown & Root”, a process 20 years in the making and well worth the wait. “Brown & Root”, written by Crowell, had been a live show staple for Earle years back.
It tells the story of working day in and day out for one of the oldest companies in Houston. The song starts with a brief history lesson, told in Earle's unmistakable voice. “Everybody I knew when I was growing up in Houston used to work for Brown & Root construction company.” says Crowell.
Crowell describes the process of making TEXAS, “Suddenly it’s starting to look like, oh there are these songs and these people that I know and love and it just evolved. It’s certainly not what I had in mind when I started it. When I first started I thought, man I have all these songs that are pretty Texas-centric; that’s a word that Billy F Gibbons and I came up with.”
Adding to the power of the collective efforts on this album is “Caw Caw Blues”, featuring Vince Gill and one of the last songs ever written with the legendary Guy Clark. Crowell admits he turned to his friend Clark’s ability to hone in on that Texas feeling when writing for this album.
“You have to narrow where you're from in order to write about it. You have to have some connection to the earth, to the landscape and to the people.” He pauses and adds, “To the food and to the mist; to the ghost stories of failures and successes. You know, life.” says Crowell in his classic brand of deep and comical.
TEXAS is a magnificent reflection of what it means to live in Texas, taking listeners down long highways to pool halls, swimming holes and border towns filled with familiar sounds and voices. Crowell taps into his penchant for storytelling and poetry in each track.
Crowell reflects in conversation about his many years away from his home state, as he has long called Nashville home. “The distance gives me an objective angle on what I want to write; and you know the old thing about write what you know, it just seems to come to me that way.”
Crowell has taken walks down memory lane in the past, like in his memoir ChinaberrySidewalks, detailing his not so ideal childhood growing up in the Third Ward. The book opens with an unforgettable story about Crowell pulling a gun on his folks and their friends just to get them to shut up.
The little shotgun shack the Crowell’s called home on Avenue P still stands to this day. “I saw Houston as a small town when I was growing up and it’s not a small town now by any stretch of the imagination, and the word stretch is apropos.” says Crowell.
August will also mark Crowell’s induction into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, an honor he can add to his long list of accolades but one that seems late to the game. “Well better late than never. Maybe they are early on the next round.” he says with a laugh.
“You know they put me in the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame a long time ago, and I thought that was really cool. Now they are drafting me into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and to be honest, I didn't know there was one, but if they have one I sure as hell wanna be in it; so yeah I’m good. I’ll put on a clean shirt for that.”
With the release of TEXAS, he and RC1 Records will also be releasing music videos for many of the tracks. The recently debuted, feel good collaboration with Randy Rogers and Lee Ann Womack, “Flatland Hillbillies” highlights down home fun with the two men enjoying the town of New Braunfels. “I call Randy Rogers the mayor of New Braunfels, it’s his town.”
Crowell will also be hosting a radio show on SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country channel where he will curate songs that are important to him and his formation as a Texan artist. Discussing the progression of radio to satellite Crowell says, “Honestly, they invite me and the terrestrial radios, they aren’t inviting to come play host DJ and pick out what I want to play. They have a hands on approach whereas the regular radio, they aren’t as freewheeling.”
In true Crowell fashion, he has not forgotten his roots. He plans to visit at least 20 smaller local stations around the state, with Houston’s own Pacifica Radio making the list. Pacifica has long been a station giving home to artists who don't have anywhere to be played on traditional radio and was one of the first stations to play Crowell and many of his collaborators.
“I remember it well and I'm going to go see them. KPFT is one of the first places I’ll go, I remember Pacifica radio was around before I went off to college.” Crowell is also scheduled to perform at Cactus Music for an in-store performance treating fans who pre-order TEXAS with the store to a free concert the night before the big show.
Just as time has not faded his memories of where he comes from, neither has it slowed him down, though Crowell admits it moves too fast for his taste. “I already have another record to record. My output is very high right now, and I’m not sure why that is. It feels good except I used to be better at goofing off, I don't goof off as ardently as I used to.”
Rodney Crowell is scheduled to perform at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday August 14 at Cactus Records, 2110 Portsmouth. Free with pre-order of album and Thursday August 15 at the Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th. Doors open at 7 p.m. $41.
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Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.