At different points in our lives, we all take a moment to look back and reflect upon the steps that led us to where we are. We take stock of the things that worked and the things that didn’t, the lessons we learned and the hardships we endured. It’s all part of the process of living our way through a self-examined existence. And it’s no different for musicians — their reflections are simply more melodic than ours.
As with Mary Chapin Carpenter’s captivating Sometimes Just the Sky album that dropped earlier this year, Rodney Crowell has now retraced a dozen songs from across his 40-year discography in a different setting. Dubbed Acoustic Classics, the set touches down in different decades to look back at these pieces through the lens of now. Some are well-served by the new takes, while it’s hard to top previous versions of others.
For instance, “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” was recorded early on by both Emmylou Harris and the Oak Ridge Boys, and a song sung by EmmylouSongbird as pretty well reached its peak. That said, compared to Crowell’s own 2005 version, the new take feels feistier and brighter… more immediate, in a way, as if we’re all just hanging out on a South Louisiana levee together.
Similarly, “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” — done previously by Harris, Waylon Jennings, and others — forsakes the traditional chugging telecaster to fit in with its acoustic brethren. In doing so, it showcases the craftsmanship at its core. If a song can set aside its juke joint jive and stand tall in an acoustic setting, it’s a mighty fine song. This holds true for “Lovin’ All Night,” as well. It still boogies and swings right along, just without as much fanfare as Crowell’s 1993 Life Is Messy rendition.
The same can even be said for brushing off the commercial country sheen that Keith Urban and Tim McGraw applied to “Making Memories of Us” and “Please Remember Me,” respectively. Crowell strips both songs down to their bare minimums — leaving synth pads, programmed drums, and affected vocals behind — and the songs are all the better for it.
Crowell is a romantic at heart. That much is surely clear to anyone who listens with any closeness to his compositions. At times, that penchant gets a little overly sweet for some, but you can’t knock a man of such committed faith too hard for wanting to believe in love everlasting. Other times, such as with “Tennessee Wedding” which was written for his daughter’s wedding, the sentiment is absolutely spot-on. Over the course of four decades as a country music icon, Rodney Crowell has hit his mark far more often than he has missed it, and that is a feat worth reflecting on.