The Houston Kid

Rodney Crowell

Sugar Hill Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


I remember working at a country music radio station in the late eighties and not being terribly impressed with Rodney Crowell. About the only thing that stuck in my head is that he was married for a while to Roseanne Cash; his music was, to me, eminently forgettable. As I get older, I've become more interested in country and western and other forms of American roots music, but I admit that had you told me two weeks ago I'd be saying kind things about a Rodney Crowell CD, I'd be surprised.

Guess what, kids? This review is going to be chock-full of kind things.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The Houston Kid is one of the more enjoyable musical stories I've ever had told to me. Crowell turns an unflinching eye on growing up poor in Houston, telling his own stories as well as the stories of others he knew. He's not asking for sympathy, and he's not excusing his behavior; he's merely documenting life in dark and light shades. Comparisons can be made to Bruce Springsteen, or Tom Petty, or even Harry Chapin, but this is Crowell's story, told in Crowell's voice, and needs to be treated as such.

The thing that impacted the most on first listen was the brutal honesty of the music. The sharp edge of alcoholism, poverty, abuse, and prejudice is only rarely sheathed; songs like "The Rock Of My Soul" and "Topsy Turvy" are almost tangibly painful, Crowell's smooth voice and easy musicianship at odds with the glass-studded wires of the lyrics. "Why Don't We Talk About It" is a tongue-in-cheek documentation of Crowell looking in the mirror at being who he is. The brutal counterpoint of "I Wish It Would Rain" and "Wandering Boy", the stories of two twin brothers who walked very different paths, is the musical equivalent of a freight train. This is not music for the faint of heart; Crowell's world and past have been downright ugly in places, and he isn't interested in pulling his punches.

It's not all darkness, though. "I Walk The Line Revisited" is a sweet, well-written tribute to the first time Crowell heard Johnny Cash, and it's a clever, heartfelt snapshot of a single moment in time. "U Don't Know How Much I Hate U" is one of the funniest back-handed love songs I've ever heard, and "Banks Of The Old Bandera" is a wistful bit of nostalgia. The CD closes with the rough-hewn benediction of "I Know Love Is All I Need", and you know that no matter how battered the singer or how rough the road, for a moment there's peace. And in a way, that's all you can ask for.

The Houston Kid is a CD of stories, in a way that very little music manages today. It hearkens back to the best of the modern bards. There is no question that it's worth adding to your collection.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sugar Hill Records, and is used for informational purposes only.