June 17, 2012

Concert #641 - Rodney Crowell at McCabe's Guitar Shop (June 15, 2012)

Announced as "an evening of music, poetry, readings and storytelling", this show had the potential of becoming a real drag for those folks who, like me, are not into poetry and don't care for excessive "spoken word" delivered at the detriment of music. But things turned out just fine, as Rodney's music took center stage from the get go and it stayed there for the evening, with only minor and entirely enjoyable digressions of the non-musical kind.

The focus of the show was on "Kin", Rodney's just-released album, a collaboration with writer Mary Karr and featuring guest vocals by heavy hitters such as Lucinda Williams, Kris Kristofferson, Norah Jones, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash, Rodney's ex. We got to hear eight of the ten songs of the album and they were all of the highest quality. Songwriting this good is uncommon and I believe that Mary Karr deserves credit beyond her role as a lyricist - I'm pretty sure that her involvement had some catalytic effect on Rodney's creative juices when it came to crafting tunes.

The show started with Rodney solo - he played "Anything But Tame", which also happens to be the album's opening track. Following that, Rodney brought out guitarist Steuart Smith, who seated himself directly in front of me and I'm glad he did, as his playing was an absolute pleasure to observe. I'm still amazed by his intricate fingerwork and the beauty of the sounds he produced. No doubt, the Eagles knew what they were doing in 2001, when they picked Steuart to replace the fired Don Felder.

Rodney Crowell (right) and Steuart Smith at McCabe's
Soon they were joined by Mary Karr, who handled the poetry part of the show, although one may argue whether a poem that includes the F-word qualifies to be called poetry. For the storytelling part, Mary borrowed from her "Liar's Club" book and I must say that her control of the English language is stunningly good. Mary also soloed on one song, I think it was "If The Law Don't Want You", a song handled by Norah Jones on the studio version of "Kin".

Mary Karr delivering some "spoken word", with Rodney Crowell listening
Rodney was in great vocal form, he sang with precision and he did feel what he sang. The tone of his voice and his vocal inflections were Crowell-esque, in other words, he sounded just like I knew him from his recorded music. I also liked his on-stage demeanor - he gave Mary and Steuart the room they deserved and treated them as equals. Rodney spoke little, but said a lot - now that's an art that other performers should master as well.

Once again I must bring up the quality of Rodney's songwriting. Whether drawing from "Kin" or his older material, everything we heard last Friday was top-notch, essentially one highly listenable number after another. The sequencing of songs was great, too, and the end result was an exceptionally enjoyable show that could have gone on and on without anyone minding, certainly not me.

The set list
With songs as good as Rodney's, it's hard to pick a highlight, but if pressed, I'd go for "The Rock Of My Soul", "God, I'm Missing You" and "Sister Oh Sister". I also liked "I'm A Mess" and the faux-Hank Williams tune titled "Just Pleasing You".

Rodney Crowell acknowledging Steuart Smith at the end of the show
Rodney Crowell and Mary Karr receiving a standing ovation
All-in-all, Rodney Crowell's concert was yet another fabulous event, the kind you often see at McCabe's and probably nowhere else in the Los Angeles area. Where else can you attend a world-class event and be surrounded by a knowledgeable, well-behaved and respectful crowd, but at McCabe's?

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