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Iconic Nashville songwriter and performer Rodney Crowell plays Cuesta's Performing Arts Center on April 1 

I could eat up a couple of paragraphs listing all the amazing performers who've had hits with Rodney Crowell's songs. Since arriving in Nashville nearly a half century ago, he's become one of the finest living songwriters in country music. His own performing and recording career has been equally laudable, with two Grammy Awards and five No. 1 hits to his credit. Now 71, his most recent studio album is Triage, released in July 2021.

click to enlarge THE SONGWRITERS' SONGWRITER Rodney Crowell has been a hit writing machine for five decades, penning chart toppers for everyone from Emmylou Harris to Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings to Keith Urban. The two-time Grammy winner plays the Cuesta College Performing Arts Center on April 1. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RODNEY CROWELL
  • Photo Courtesy Of Rodney Crowell
  • THE SONGWRITERS' SONGWRITER Rodney Crowell has been a hit writing machine for five decades, penning chart toppers for everyone from Emmylou Harris to Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings to Keith Urban. The two-time Grammy winner plays the Cuesta College Performing Arts Center on April 1.

Rodney Crowell plays the Cuesta College Performing Arts Center on Friday, April 1 (7 p.m.; all ages; $45 to $60 at eventbrite.com), and he recently spoke to New Times by phone. What were those early years like?

"It will be 50 years in August that I showed up in Nashville for the first time. I was lucky. There were some really fine people who gave me advice and instruction, and I learned a lot. Professional songwriters opened the door and let me in, like Guy Clark. I got to know Townes Van Zandt then. I knew I had gotten lucky and stumbled into a really good scene."

Why him? Did they immediately recognize his talent or was there something else?

"There was something else," he laughed. "My songwriting still wasn't—let's say—developed yet. You know, my father was a wealth of '30s folk music, '40s and '50s country music, so I hadn't written any good songs, but I had a wealth of knowledge about great old songs. I knew Appalachian dead baby songs and songs like 'You Gotta Have a License' and 'Rabbit in the Graveyard,' and those folkies I was hanging around with, they let me hang because I had a knowledge of something that they didn't have so much a knowledge of."

Still, it didn't take long for his songs to be picked up by the stars of the day.

"I was a pretty quick study, and Guy Clark in particular was very generous with his time. I learned a lot about self-editing, but by the same token, I sort of brought an enthusiasm and a little punch to what was going on, which I think they got off on, so it was a fair trade. Luck was on my side. Within six months I was meeting Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed, and Reed was recording my songs."

Now nearly 50 years later, has it become easier or harder to keep the songs coming?

"They seem to come at about the same pace, maybe more now, but I work at it harder. I don't take it for granted. When I was young, inspiration would come and I'd write a song, but mainly I was just hanging out, trying to get noticed. Now, I approach it like an artist should. If I'm not on the road performing and touring, you can ask my wife, I'm up in the morning and working."

His newest, Triage, is a collection of engaging, beautiful, thoughtfully written songs that speak to our world. Where did the title come from?

"As I look at the world we live in, at the divide, the political idiocy on whichever side, the war—the war wasn't going on in Ukraine then but it's just an extension of the vibrations of the planet to begin with—when I look at all that, triage, by definition, is deciding what to fix first to save lives, and that's mainly climate change. To me it's the cataclysmic thing that we face. We have to make some choices, and that's what triage is. We need to prioritize what happens."

When he wrote the title track to Triage, it was about a friend who was going through a "pretty rough patch of health issues and was doing so with grace and dignity. I wrote him a song and called it 'Triage.'"

It's got some deep lyrics. These lines—"I think I know what love is forgiveness for a start/Room for those you love to hate somewhere inside your heart," and, "It's an endless stream consciousness obtained in drips and drabs/And a chance to do the right thing when there's no one keeping tabs"—seem particularly poignant to me.

"Thank you for that. I worked at that album very conscientiously. I knew what I wanted to say, and that album is my most spiritually focused work. I was very careful to make the language grounded, so even if you didn't get what I was driving at you couldn't say I didn't write it well."

At this Cuesta show, he'll be backed by what he calls a "jazzy acoustic quintet with percussion, bass, piano, violin, bouzouki, and myself," and the material will span his entire career.

"I have more songs than I could perform in four nights, but what I do is take a few songs and follow my band members as we perform the songs through the creativity of how this band sees them."

Don't miss your chance to see this living legend!

Also this week from Numbskull and Good Medicine, check out Kabaka Pyramid & The Bebble Rockers with special guests Eureka Sound at The Siren on Monday, April 4 (7 p.m.; 21-and-older; $16 to $18 at eventbrite.com).

"Pyramid is a conscious revolutionary lyricist with a unique musical style; blending the power, energy, and melody of reggae with the lyricism of hip-hop," press materials explain.

Progressive socially conscious singer-songwriter Sunny War also plays a Numbskull and Good Medicine show at The Siren next Thursday, April 7 (7 p.m.; 21-and-older; $15 to $17 at eventbrite.com). Instead of allowing the pandemic to drive her into seclusion, she's been busy founding a Los Angeles chapter of the nonprofit Food Not Bombs, putting together a network of volunteers to distribute vegan food to the homeless, marching for BLM in protest against police brutality, and recording Simple Syrup, a new album at Hen House Studios in Venice Beach.

"I want Simple Syrup to be an album of refuge," she said in press materials. "An album you can listen to when you want to get away."

Also this week at The Siren, DJ Yella of NWA plays on Friday, April 1 (7:30 p.m.; 21-and-older; $20 to $75 at eventbrite.com). Née Antoine Carraby, the DJ, rapper, and record producer has one studio album to his credit, One Mo Nigga ta Go (1996). He also became a prolific porn film producer, telling Bustle, "I shot about 300 movies. It was fun." According to press materials, he left the porn industry in 2011 to work on a new album, West Coastin, though I could find no evidence of it ever being released. I have no idea what this concert will be like.

Kareeta plays The Siren on Saturday, April 2 (8 p.m.; 21-and-older; free).

Rising from "the swamps and Southern delta heat during the uncertain spring of 2020," the band emerged "as a fully formed amalgamation of the music that shaped its core," according to press materials. Greg Loiacono (Mother Hips, Green Leaf Rustlers) produced their debut album. They have a jam band sound with an ample helping of organ-driven groove grease.

Country singer-songwriter Jesse Daniel plays The Siren on Sunday, April 4 (7 p.m.; 21-and-older; $15 at eventbrite.com), with Summer Dean opening. Daniel is open about overcoming years of addiction and how those experiences informed his music. Of his most recent record, Beyond these Walls, he said, "I wanted this record to reflect where I'm at in life ... a more mature album and version of my sound, but without sacrificing any of the things that make it 'Jesse Daniel.' Every song on this record reflects a part of me."

Geesy & Felder at Fremont

LA-based Mexican American hip-hop artist OhGeesy plays the Fremont Theater on Sunday, April 3 (8 p.m.; all ages; $25 to $32 general or $100 meet-and-greet at seetickets.us). He grew up listening to his uncle's CD collection, including classics like UGK, Juicy J, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg. Young Hawaii Slim, That Mexican OT, and DJ Vision open this night of hip-hop.

Former Eagles guitarist Don Felder plays the Fremont Theater on Thursday, April 7 (8 p.m.; all ages; $57 to $97 at eventbrite.com). Known as "Fingers" Felder, he wrote a New York Times best seller about his tenure with the famed arena rock act called Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001). Since his acrimonious departure from the Eagles, he's released two solo albums, Road to Forever (2012) and American Rock 'n' Roll (2019), which feature a bevy of famous collaborators including Sammy Hagar, Slash, Richie Sambora, Peter Frampton, Joe Satriani, and many more.

More music ...

Originally scheduled to perform in April of 2020, The Drifters will now play the Clark Center this Saturday, April 2 (7:30 p.m.; $45 to $58 at clarkcenter.org). Formed in 1953, this storied doo-wop, R&B, and soul group has over the years included Ben E. King, Clyde McPhatter, J.T. Carter, Bobby Hendricks, and many other notable singers. Expect to hear hits such as "Up on the Roof," "Save the Last Dance for Me," and "Under the Boardwalk."

Decomposing Brass Quintet plays Strother Park this Sunday, April 3 (1 p.m.; all ages; free), delivering some jazz standards, Broadway/movie themes, and pop tunes. Bring a chair and enjoy the show.

Tessa Lark & Michael Thurber play the Performing Arts Center Pavilion on Wednesday, April 6 (7:30 p.m.; $33.60 to $42 at calpolyarts.org). Lark, an award-winning violinist, and Thurber, a virtuoso composer/bassist, met years ago as alumni of NPR's "From the Top." Expect an intimate concert in a cabaret-style environment.

Austin-based rock quartet White Denim plays SLO Brew Rock on Thursday, April 7 (7:30 p.m.; 18-and-older; $24.50 at ticketweb.com). "Their music is influenced by dub, psychedelic rock, blues, punk rock, progressive rock, soul, jazz, experimental rock with home-based recording, jamming approach, intense looping work, and unusual song structures," the band's bio explains. Δ

Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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