Rodney Crowell enlists his ex-wife Rosanne Cash, singer-songwriter John Paul White and harp player Mickey Raphael for “It Ain’t Over Yet,” a song and video peering through, in Crowell’s words, “watery eyes” to discover a world in which the jagged edges of romance have been polished by the forgiving nature of time. The intoxicating tune is one of the standouts on Crowell’s upcoming fifteenth solo studio LP Close Ties, the New West Records follow-up to 2014’s Tarpaper Sky.
“For fools like me, who were built for the chase, it takes a right kind of woman to help you put it all in place,” Crowell sings. “It only happened one in my life but, man, you should have seen her hair two shades of foxtail red, her eyes some far-out sea blue-green.” The evocative lyrics call to mind the two-tone, punked-out cover image from Cash’s 1985 LP Rhythm and Romance, which preceded Crowell’s mainstream country breakthrough of five consecutive Number One hits from 1988’s Diamonds & Dirt and the subsequent collapse of the couple’s marriage. The two have since transcended that show-biz tale as old as time, with Crowell and Cash collaborating musically on occasion – and Crowell doing the honors when Cash was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015.
Crowell has been telling stories in song for the better part of five decades, and many of those tales have, naturally, revolved around the singer-songwriter himself. The concept of autobiography is at the heart of Close Ties, which was co-produced by Kim Buie and Jordan Lehning and collects his nuanced personal reflections with the intimate, literary sophistication that has been a hallmark of the Houston-born tunesmith’s work since the early Seventies.
“It’s a loose concept album, you could say,” Crowell explains. “And the concept is related to how you tell stories about yourself.”
Much of the tone on Close Ties is captured via Crowell’s vivid memories – from childhood in Texas (“East Houston Blues”) to his descent upon Music City (“Nashville 1972”) and wounded lovers (“Forgive Me, Annabelle”) to the deaths of his longtime friends Guy and Susanna Clark (“Life Without Susanna”). Personal recollections intertwine with fictional accounts throughout the record, which also features a duet with Sheryl Crow on “I’m Tied to Ya,” and the strength of the women in his life – like ex-wife Cash – seems to permeate Close Ties more than any in his past.
“The marriage ended but from time to time the musical collaboration goes on,” he notes. “My wife now, Claudia, offers the gift of stability to both my personal and professional endeavors. And with four daughters and two grand daughters, my corner of the world is populated by formidable women.”