Prime Cuts: I Wouldn't Be Me without You, God I'm Missing You, The Long Journey Home
Watch my words: though I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, Rodney Crowell's "Tarpaper Sky" is the kind of record that is going to sweep home a ton of awards and accolades in the year or so to come. This record is articulate, intelligent, poetic and freighted with gravitas that have been accrued over a lengthy career. "Tarpaper Sky" has the accessibility of Crowell's "Let the Picture Paint Itself," the depths of "The Houston Kid," the spiritual acumen of "Fate's Right Hand" and the emotional depths of "Life is Messy." It's the seminal Rodney Crowell record that fans have been waiting for a long time. "Tarpaper Sky" harkens back to Crowell's 1988 "Diamonds and Dirt" breakthrough album utilizing the same musicians and approach. Further, luminaries such as Vince Gill, Ronnie McCoury, Jerry Douglas, and Fats Kaplin have also graced the record with their vocals and instruments.
The album titular "Tarpaper Sky" finds its sui genesis from the album cut "God I'm Missing Her." A track that first made its appearance on Crowell's duet album with literary confidant Mary Karr "Kin," "God I'm Missing You" is a tortured ballad that drills deep into the soul with lots of heart wrenching lines. As expansive as the blue Montana sky is, Crowell explores his edgeless wanderlust soul on the breezy "The Long Journey Home." Will Jennings, who co-wrote classics such as Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On," collaborates with Crowell on the Cajun flavored "Fever on the Bayou."
Though clocking in only at 2:43 minutes, "Frankie Please" finds Crowell at his energetic peak as he could easily give Chuck Berry a run for his money. Of a more traditional country flare is the romantic waltz "I Wouldn't Be Me without You" and the tear-stained "Famous Last Words of a Fool in Love." In a judicious world where country radio would not frown upon aging artists, songs like these would definitely become airwave darlings. One wouldn't be surprise if Tim McGraw or George Strait were to covet one or both these songs in the years to come. Going much deeper than Hallmark could ever do is the love ballad "Grandma Loved that Old Man;" this remains one of the few (and necessary) songs that address the much avoided issue of septuagenarian romance.
In our selfish individualistic world, it's rare to hear a song like "The Flyboy and the Kid." A pastiche of benediction-like well wishes from Crowell to his buddy Guy Clark, this is the type of songs that remind us that friendships of a genuine kind do exists. And proving the adage that faith can never be a private affair, "Jesus Talk to Mama" finds Crowell reminiscing about her mother's connection with the Savior. "Tarpaper Sky" is not one of those disposable albums that you can download, listen to it and leave it somewhere on your hard drive. It's a record you will find yourself revisiting again and again. And every listen is an attempt in peeling a layer off Crowell's poetic, ruminative, spiritual, intelligent and heartfelt tarpaper sky.