Rodney Crowell

The Outsider (Columbia)

Rodney Crowell has long been country music's answer to Paul McCartney. He may have been raised in blue collar Houston honky-tonks, but beneath his twangy exterior beats the heart of a pub rocker. Unlike McCartney, however, Crowell is doing some of his best work in the latter part of his career. While The Outsider continues the artistic comeback that began with 2001's The Houston Kid, this time Crowell eschews the personal themes of his last two albums to pursue a more political bent with mixed results. "Ignorance is the Enemy" starts out as a pretty country gospel ballad but quickly loses its luster due to cheesy spoken monologues (courtesy of Emmylou Harris, John Prine and Crowell) that interrupt the tune, while "Don't Get Me Started" sabotages its catchy chorus with obvious rhymes like "We ran into trouble scamming for oil/Now the whole Middle East is coming to a boil." But Crowell hits more often than he misses, especially when he channels his friend Steve Earle on "Say You Love Me" and "The Obscenity Prayer (Give It To Me)," which sets a satirical tirade (sung from the point of view of a greedy Republican) to a twang-pop rave-up that culminates with Crowell screaming "Right now!" in a fierce Macca-esque falsetto.

 
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