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Sex & Gasoline

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Album Review

Sex and Gasoline is Rodney Crowell's first record in three years, where he goes further inside but pulls out accessible and jagged observations on the conflicting poles in what it means to be a conscious human being who struggles with unconscious urges. In these songs he also investigates what it means to be a man who tries — and fails a lot — to empathize with and respect women in a culture that, whether it admits it or not, hates them. Produced by Joe Henry and performed by his own nearly ubiquitous sound-painting crew of drummer Jay Belleros, bassist David Pilch, keyboardist Patrick Warren, pedal steel, mandolin, and dobro master Greg Leisz, and guitar boss Doyle Bramhall III, this is Crowell at his most direct and dense: he channels many other songwriters, but as always he remains completely his own man. The title track opens the set with a mutant acoustic blues; it works with a culture-jamming sense of poetry, with images as angry as Steve Earle's (without the autodidacticism) yet as dense and raggedly elegant as Bob Dylan's. Henry's killer band adorns Crowell's blur of images with a strident yet warm piano, a mandolin, strummed layers of acoustic guitar, and a throbbing upright bassline walking the snare toward his indictment of how we view women, what we expect of them, and an exhortation to admit it. This is underscored on the ballad "Moving Work of Art," where Crowell implicates himself as one who objectifies women despite his intentions — that he can use the language employed here points to his guilt. He tells a story, but uses the most poignant images to offer its truth — he doesn't expect you to take his word for it (even when he flips the coin and shines a light on those who understand this objectification but seek it for personal gain). The fat, warm bassline, fingerpicked guitars, and pedal steel offer an instrumental mix that invokes reverie, a look through the mirrored glass darkly. Rounding out this amazing consecutive trio is "The Rise and Fall of Intelligent Design." Pulsing with fingerpicked steel, shuffling chunky acoustics, soft toms, and a blanketed bass drum, we get this: "If I could have just one wish/Maybe for an hour/I'd want to be a woman/And feel that phantom power/Maybe I'd want to stick around for awhile/Until my heart got broke/Maybe then I could find out if I'm a half decent man/Or if I'm just a joke..." There are less topical offerings here as well, the duet with Henry on the stunning "I've Done Everything I Can," populated by two protagonists on complementary sides of a conversation on regret, grief, and the difficulty in starting over after surrendering to loss. Henry's delivery is philosophical and empathic; Crowell's is bewildered and broken, but resilient. Conversely, "Funky and the Farm Boy," is a swaggering, strutting, good-time blues groove about sexual obsession, and the band gets to cut loose a bit, thanks to Bramhall's guitars and backing vocalists Nikki Harris and Sister Jean McLain. Clocking in at just under 50 minutes, Sex and Gasoline is the record Crowell's been striving for since Houston Kid in 2001. The wisdom, humor, and literate, biting world view, is all balanced with the wisdom of tenderness, and a poetic sense of the heart's own aspirations and disappointments. With Sex and Gasoline Crowell makes emotions almost visible — how many songwriters can achieve that?

Customer Reviews

Crowell at his very best

Crowell's albums and songwriting have been getting sharper and improving for nearly a decade now. I can't understand why this major talent is almost completely ignored. Perhaps it is because he married into the Cash family - yet his work is nothing like johnny Cash and I wouldn't listen to him if it was. This album in particular is a commentary about our self indulgent society which is all about greed and self gratification. His lyrics are cogent and the production and instrumental backing (particularly the guitar work) are superb. This is country music which is socially aware and moving into the 21st century rather than looking to the past.


Born: 07 August 1950 in Houston, TX

Genre: Country

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

When Rodney Crowell first gained widespread recognition as a leader of the new traditionalist movement of the mid-'80s, he was, in fact, a singer, songwriter, and producer with roots and ambitions extending far beyond the movement's perimeters. Born to a musical family on August 7, 1950 in Houston, Texas, Crowell formed his first band, the Arbitrators, while in high school, and in 1972 moved to Nashville to become a professional musician. There, he struck up friendships with singer/songwriters Townes...
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