Although each of his records since his 1978 debut Ain’t Living Long Like This have showcased Rodney Crowell’s gifts for thoughtful, autobiographical songwriting, it wasn’t until 2001’s The Houston Kid that he not only stripped away the Music Row-minded sheen but also produced an album’s worth of poetic, often dark meditations on his impoverished upbringing on the east side of that Texas city. Since then, each of Crowell’s solo LPs, and, naturally, his penetrating 2011 memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks, have shed more light on his shadow-laden past.
“[T]hose broad stroke love songs that earned a lot of money for me back in the day were from the culture at large,” Crowell told Rolling Stone in 2011. “Then in writing Chinaberry Sidewalks, it came down to a culture of one. And for a long time, that’s where I worked.”
The riveting “East Houston Blues,” from his album, Close Ties, out March 31st, opens with Crowell, backed by slide guitar, singing, “So I grew up hungry and I grew up hard, took the streets and alleys for my backyard.” From there, he recounts his petty crimes, recalls a hard-drinking, drag-racing uncle and adds the chilling line, “I’m a third-world child, my mother’s only son, which means exactly nothing without a loaded gun.” Listen to “East Houston Blues” below.
Indeed, Crowell’s volatile home life sometimes called on his skills as a peacekeeper between his battling parents, as on the night of New Year’s Eve 1955, when the 5-year-old retrieved a .22-caliber rifle from his father’s closet, inadvertently pulling the trigger and putting an end to a booze-fueled shouting match he was afraid was about to escalate.
While “East Houston Blues” recounts his early years, Crowell’s first move to