Rodney Crowell has been doing this for a while. In fact, his career has been so long and varied that you have to specify exactly which “this” you’re talking about. There’s the record-making, which dates back to 1978 (when he released Ain’t Living Long Like This), peaked commercially a decade later (with Diamonds & Dirt, which yielded five number-one country hits), and has only grown in sophistication and power in recent years. There’s the fiercely lyrical and personal songwriting, which has attracted the attention of everyone from Bob Seger (who famously covered “Shame On the Moon”) to Keith Urban (who had a number-one hit with “Making Memories of Us”). And then there’s the autobiographical writing, which extends beyond the music world to a memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks, which was published in 2011.
Now there’s a new album, Close Ties, on which Crowell both demonstrates his strengths as a songwriter and illustrates how he has learned to balance personal recollection, literary sophistication, and his profound musical reach. It’s at once his most intimate record and his most accessible, the product of years of understanding the ways songs can enter—and be entered by—life. “It’s a loose concept album, you could say,” Crowell says. “And the concept is related to how you tell stories about yourself. Having a few years ago written a memoir, my sensibilities toward narrative—especially trying to find a common thread in different pieces of writing—had become a part of my songwriting process. One of the reasons I brought Kim Buie in as a producer is that I wanted her to work with me the way an editor works, to look at a number of songs and find the ones that worked together to create a tone.”
Close Ties is a roots record, in the sense that Crowell himself has deep roots that stretch back into the alternative country scene of the early seventies. But is defies easy classification. Is it country? Is it a songwriter record? Does art need categories? “Well,” Crowell says, “when I was a quote-unquote country star for my fifteen minutes of major fame, I hated the label. I bristled at it and got myself in trouble. I would go around to radio stations and that early morning drive-time, chirpy optimism, and I would come across as grumpy. They knew my mind wasn’t in the right place. I was an interloper in that world. I didn’t fit it. It soon spit me out. In hindsight, it should have: I was no asset to their goal, which was to satisfy their advertisers.”
On the other hand, the rise of Americana music struck a nerve with him. “I have declared my loyalty to Americana. It’s a hard category for people to get their heads around, or at least the terminology is. But all the people who represent it—Townes van Zandt, Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and more recent stars like John Paul White and Jason Isbell—share a common thread, and that thread is poet. Whether they are actual poets or their music exemplifies a poetic sensibility, generally speaking, the Americana artist shuns commercial compromise in favor of a singular vision. Which resonates with me.”
Fifty years after Crowell first started playing as a teen in Houston garage bands, he still believes in the power of songs, and the responsibility of singing them. “The interesting thing about that garage band back then is that we would go from ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ by the Beatles to ‘Honky Tonkin’’ by Hank Williams. In southeast Texas those songs fit side by side. ‘Drinkin’ Wine Spo-de-o-dee’ went right next to ‘Crossroads’ by Cream. That was the beauty of it, that all of that existed side by side.” Crowell finds himself going back to that music, but also going even earlier. “Recently, I think—I hope—that my study of the blues is starting to show up in my music. Those artists, whether it’s Lightnin’ Hopkins or John Lee Hooker or the acoustic Delta players, connected to something fundamental. With that in mind, I’m trying to move forward but also get back there.”
Twenty-six-year-old Australian Joe Robinson is a world-class virtuoso guitarist and singer/ songwriter with a unique musical sensibility, injecting a unique fusion of rock, blues, R&B and jazz into a fresh sound that is entirely his own. Displaying his virtuosity on electric as well as acoustic guitar, Robinson was voted “Best New Talent” in the Guitar Player Readers’ Poll and landed a coveted spot as one of Australian Guitar Magazine’s Top 50 Best Guitarists. Robinson’s talents were further recognized by Guitar Player magazine as part of a cover story entitled “Youthquake 2017: Ten Mind-Blowing Young Guitarists.” In the article, Guitar Player observes Robinson is “equally mind-blowing as an acoustic fingerpicker and electric soloist…his YouTube videos display an astounding combination of taste, speed, cagey phrasing, and a clear, articulate, and sparking tone." Robinson started playing guitar at age nine and when he quickly outpaced his guitar instructor,
began educating himself via the internet. At age 11 he was a touring guitarist and at just 13 years old, he won the Australian National Songwriting Competition. Within a couple of years he was touring regularly and sharing stages with artists such as Tommy and Phil Emmanuel, both of whom served as mentors. When a 16-year-old Robinson burned through a Chet-inflected medley of “Day Tripper” and “Lady Madonna” in 2008 at the opening round of the nationally broadcast Australia’s Got Talent television series competition, the entire house—including the judges—gave him a standing ovation. He went on to win $250k with his take on Tommy Emmanuel’s arrangement of “Classical Gas.”
Robinson has toured North America and abroad (China, Japan, Europe, and Australia) playing numerous festivals, including Bonnaroo, and headlining clubs, which has enabled him to define himself as a budding world visionary. In his solo show, there are a few moments where he physically has two guitars — one acoustic and one electric — strapped over his shoulder and is playing them expertly at the same time. In addition to extensive touring on his own, Robinson toured with Guitar Army featuring fellow master guitarists/singers/songwriters Robben Ford and Lee Roy Parnell in 2016, and in 2017, Robinson joined guitar greats John Jorgenson and Lee Roy Parnell in Guitar Army on the road and in the studio.
Robinson is currently writing and recording his highly-awaited fourth solo album (a follow-up to his wellreceived Gemini, Vol. 1 and Gemini, Vol. 2 EP’s) expected to be released in 2019. He has also been keeping a busy schedule on the road with solo dates and shows with Tommy Emmanuel, Rodney Crowell (opening shows and as a member of Crowell’s acoustic trio), and Edwin McCain, among others.
“It’s not hard to imagine him rivaling the popularity of, say, John Mayer in coming years.”
- Washington Post