by Mike Hennessey
Rodney Crowell is a critically-acclaimed member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame with thirty years worth of chart-topping, Grammy-nominated music behind him. However, his latest release, Sex and Gasoline, arrives with a tired title stripped from the album’s faintly sanctimonious opening track, a hoary critique of the female beauty-industrial complex. Mr. Crowell has never come across as a man impartial to his own appearance, whether sporting an impressive Marty Stuart mane or tight, tight jeans (Wh-, what have we? A shapely thonged backside accentuating a tousled black and white bedroom portrait serves as album cover. Have earnest, progressive purveyors of rootsy American music become so very ironic about their t&a? I guess they have.) While Crowell’s admirers tend to make a virtue of the emotional and political “directness” in his lyrics, Sex and Gasoline sets a certain standard for clunky lines delivered over atmospheric acoustic guitar and decorative electric curlicues. In fact, attentive listeners must quickly resign themselves to playing the parlor game whereby we predict, in real time, Mr. Crowell’s compulsive end rhymes (“drowning in brine” with levee “design” when it comes to Katrina? Please defer to Fezzik, much less Randy Newman.) At times it appears the “Houston Kid” has taken up a fascination with the lyrical stylings of early period Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince.
The thrill of keeping up with a veteran Nashville songsmith’s verse composition fades about as fast as the expiration-dated feminine charms Crowell harps on about. What remains is the prurient spectacle of a mature father of four daughters advertising a preoccupation with “moving work(s) of art”: tender foxy waifs found around “Tinseltown” in “platform flip-flops” with tattoos “hugging hipbones… black mascara framing big green eyes.” Has an opus of such singular artistic vision been visited upon our popular culture since Woody Allen and Rod Stewart collaborated on the musical production of Rochelle, Rochelle? Upon finding oneself lurching down a path long since tread by Aerosmith, perchance return to the creative well. For a writer and performer of Rodney Crowell’s stature, one who gives us as indelible a reflection on Alzheimer’s as “Forty Winters,” it is surely just a fast shuffle back to the source.