Houston, Texas native Rodney Crowell blew inland from the Gulf Coast to the Cumberland River in the 1970s at the age of 22, when he put down roots in Nashville carving out a working man's legacy as one of the city's finest storytellers and songwriters.
Armed with an ace band of Nashville cats and new songs from his 18th album Triage, the two-time Grammy Award winner stopped by Mountain Stage for the fifth time in August.
Long-time friend Kathy Mattea, making her first appearance as the official new host of Mountain Stage, introduced Crowell, who has landed numerous hits across his career, including songs performed by iconic acts like the Grateful Dead, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton.
"Our final guest tonight is a songwriter, performer, producer, and author," Mattea said. "He is one of the most respected songwriters in any genre. He was Americana when Americana wasn't called Americana. He was an original member of Emmylou Harris's Hot Band and has recorded two duet albums with her in recent years."
Crowell, who grew up musically under the influence of fellow Texans Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, shuffled his cowboy boot heels back home on the mood-setting opener following Eamon McLoughlin's intoxicating fiddle on "Jewel Of The South," the poetic title track of his 1995 album. "Where the river flows like warm molasses, rain fogs up my reading glasses," Crowell sang. "Honeysuckle strong enough to curl your hair, back down there."
Before opening the latest reflective chapter of his songbook, Crowell's band — McLoughlin and Catherine Marx on piano, Glen Caruba on drums, Zachariah Hickman on bass – ran wild and free on the bluesy protest song "The Weight Of The World," which he co-wrote with Emmylou Harris.
Triage came out in July and the 71-year-old songwriter takes head on mortality throughout the record. He and the band earned a rousing applause for the beautiful, contemplative song, "This Body Isn't All There Is To Who I Am," a song Crowell said he wrote walking through the kitchen to make himself a PB&J sandwich. Crowell segued from that sweet number into a hell-bending honky tonk piano inferno on Crowell's break-out 1978 hit, "I Ain't Living Long Like This."
One of the set highlights was Crowell, a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member, sharing the inspiration behind the title track from Triage, about the successful prostate cancer battle undertaken by good buddy and fellow songwriter and producer Joe Henry.
"Kathy was kind of enough to mention I have a new record Triage ... I wrote this for my friend Joe Henry who was dealing with some serious health issues that could have been bleak, but he was so willing to hold the center of his being and be vulnerable, be afraid, and be triumphant, and in the end, he won out," Crowell said. "I made this song for him, and with that man you've got to reach high."
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