Now here is a surprise, a record primarily from Rodney Crowell but where another talent, author Mary Karr shares the songwriting duties. Plus Rodney has an elite group of vocalists sing lead! For years, near as long as Emmylou’s Hot Band (Harris being one of the above noted vocalists) of whom Crowell was a founder member he has been recognised as a superb songwriter. A tribute album, make that a double is long overdue of fellow acts paying homage to arguably the finest contemporary songwriter ever. For he is up there with the best (of iconic status) literal figures America has produced, due to the fact a great many of his compositions like those of Guy Clark and a few more are like mini-novels.
As for Kin, the songs dig deep into each other’s similar past. As both suffered parents with either drink problems or as in the case of Karr, a mother who lacked mental stability and was also a long-time alcoholic. Of equal importance they both have had bad adventures in the world of pharmaceuticals, survived and also drank their share of alcohol (Karr carried on the family tradition when he mother quit and saw her marriage calapse) plus they were born and raised in East Texas (‘a God forsaken place’ according to the New York Times Best Selling author; memoirs Lit, Cherry and The Liar’s Club) —hereby comes the association 'Kin’.
Hence, the imagery of people they grew-up with and met and areas they knew were pretty much the same. It being where the material on Kin comes. A brilliant affair, it sees their craft cultivated by vocalists and players ideally suited for the task. For the ten-track album is full of characters and vivid imagery as friends and family gain inspiration for a song. Plus, we have the couple’s own past demons. Despite which the material never gets to be too heavy but flows like a true country song should. As genuine homely, down-home values also get to regularly raise their head.
Among the strongest performances you have the fiddle, resonator (Gill) and steel (Tommy White) guitar country steeped ‘Momma’s On A Roll’ (Lee Ann Womack) plus his jaunty working of ‘My Father’s Advice’ (with Kris Kristofferson) and on aided by that classic RC lilt you have the sublime ‘Hungry For Love’. Isn’t it amazing how all that you need for a great country song is, great lyrics, singing (Crowell, Harris and Will Kimbrough) and simple acoustic guitar. That Crowell picks. What a wonderful closer. The album’s other bookend is a busy ‘Anything But Tame’; set to a typical Crowell beat it if could just as easily come from The Houston Kid sessions.
As for to die for performances Nora Jones performs above and beyond all expectations on ‘If The Law Don’t Want You’ (plus there is great fiddle from Larry Franklin) and his good friend Vince Gill who sings the hell out of ‘Just Pleasing You’ (once people who may have otherwise considered recording the song have heard him do it they immediately throw up their hands in defeat). When it come to pouring out heartfelt angst Lucinda Williams eases, majestically through ‘God I’m Missing You’ as she lives every lyric as Crowell and his band members Patrick Warren (piano) and Jedd Hughes (mandolin) plus David Pilch (bass) and John Ferraro (drums) combine to lay down the perfect backdrop.
There’s two other contributors in need a special mention too. Harris for her fabulous story-telling on the spare chilling (shades of David Olney) even ‘Long Time Girl Gone By’ and Rosanne Cash who like Crowell is a true artiste. Who has rarely sounded better or more at ease performing a new song than on ‘Sister Oh Sister’ and which contains vocal harmonies from fellow recording act Chely Wright and some smart playing on electric lead guitar by her husband, John Leventhal. Other pickers onboard include Jonathan Yudkin, Dennis Crouch, John Hobbs, Michael Rhodes, John Mock, Steuart Smith, IIya Topshinski, Tony Garnier, Nir Z, Tim Lauer, Tim Luntzel and Marco Giovino and they are all used sparingly.
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