Rodney Crowell puts music to canvas on ‘pastoral’ Tarpaper Sky

Renowned musician, songwriter, and author Rodney Crowell teams up with New West Records to release Tarpaper Sky, the artist’s latest endeavor and follow up to 2013’s Old Yellow Moon—Crowell’s Grammy winning collaboration with Emmylou Harris that was named 2013 Album of the Year by the Americana Music Association. After 40 years of making music, Tarpaper Sky “harkens back to some of [Crowell’s] most revered and loved works,” reads a news release, which goes on to state that the new album “would sit comfortably on the shelf right between the chart-topping fan favorite Diamonds and Dirt (1988) and Life Is Messy (1992).”

Rodney Crowell has pushed the boundaries of country, folk and roots music since long before the term Americana was coined as a genre, making a name for himself and gaining respect as both a songwriter and as an artist. The Houston native’s resume serves as a “manual on how to balance commercial success and lifelong artistry while also maintaining integrity.” What’s more, he is distinguished by the diverse array of artists who have recorded his songs—a list that extends from legendary and contemporary country stars (Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw) to rock and blues mainstays (Bob Seger, Van Morrison, Etta James).

Tarpaper Sky marks a reunion of the creative partnership between Crowell and musical accomplice Steuart Smith, who was an integral part of Crowell’s overall sound during the late 80s. Crowell says the songs on his latest project are “mostly pastorals—pictures from an imaginary countryside that tell unadorned stories with straightforward language and energetic musicianship.” The album helmed by the production team of Justin Niebank, Steuart Smith, and Dan Knobler is also a “rich sonic experience” thanks to guest vocals from Vince Gill, John Cowan, Ronnie McCoury, and Shannon McNally. In addition, a cast of some of Nashville’s finest musicians includes Jerry Douglas, Will Kimbrough, Fats Kaplin and Steve Fishell. The result is a continuity that could only come from a core of musicians and old friends with whom Crowell made some of his career defining music.

The lyrics and message behind the album’s bittersweet opener, ‘Long Journey Home,’ which sums up the album’s theme in the line, “The simple life tastes sweeter now, you have no need to roam.” ‘Fever On The Bayou’ then segues into ‘Frankie Please’ to give the listener a “rich and varied roots experience,” while “graceful ballads” dot the musical landscape with the poignant country waltz ‘I Wouldn’t Be Me Without You,’ the “self-explanatory and vulnerable” ‘God, I’m Missing You,’ and ‘Jesus Talk To Mama,’ a song that “celebrates the mystery of his mother’s faith.”

Overall, the songs and vibe of Tarpaper Sky are described as being “full of warmth and familiarity as if it were a favorite record you would have worn out years ago.” The 63-year-old Crowell begins touring in support of Tarpaper Sky on April 25 in Decatur, Georgia. At least 25 additional dates in cities throughout the U.S. include May 5 at the City Winery in New York City, June 22 at the Chateau Amphitheatre in Seattle, August 6 at Americanafest in New York City, and September 6-7 at the Wheatland Music Festival in Remus, Michigan.

Watch Rodney Crowell in an acoustic performance of ‘God, I’m Missing You,’ one of the tracks off the singer-songwriter’s new album, Tarpaper Sky.

As A Matter of Fact…

* Rodney Crowell was born August 7, 1950, in Crosby, Tex., near Houston. He first appeared on stage at age 11 when his father pressed him into service as the drummer of a rag tag band called J.W. Crowell And The Rhythmaires.

* Crowell was influenced by Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and formed his first band in high school. He briefly attended college in Nacogdoches, Tex., while playing barroom covers and experimenting with writing songs. He also began recording songs with friend and roommate Donovan Cowart.

* Crowell moved to Nashville in 1972. His break came when Music Row kingpin Harry Warner walked into a bar where Crowell was playing and heard him perform ‘You Can’t Keep Me Here In Tennessee.’ Warner offered to record the song the next day.

* Crowell wrote many of his classic compositions such as ‘Til I Gain Control Again,’ ‘I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This,’ ‘Song For The Life,’ and ‘Ashes By Now’ while still in his early 20s. He also benefitted from what would become a lifelong musical association with Emmylou Harris, who recorded ‘Til I Gain Control Again.’

* In 1975, Emmylou Harris invited Crowell to move to California, join her Hot Band, and write songs for her—a move that formally launched Crowell’s career as one of the most sought after songwriters in the industry. Crowell also formed the band The Cherry Bombs with friends Vince Gill and Tony Brown.

* Crowell signed to Warner Bros. Records as a solo artist and released Ain’t Living Long Like This as his debut album in 1978. He married musical collaborator Rosanne Cash the following year and began to produce her albums as well as write songs for the singer. Crowell also scored a pop/rock hit with the song ‘Shame On The Moon’ recorded by Bob Seger.

* Rodney Crowell is a Grammy Award winner, member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and recipient of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting from the Americana Music Association. He has recorded 13 studio albums and 36 singles, and recently penned his autobiography titled, “Chinaberry Sidewalks.”

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