Life Is Messy

Rodney Crowell

Columbia Records, 1992

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Texas native Rodney Crowell can easily be credited with spurring on the alternative country scene which started to manifest in the early to mid 80's. He's a man who wears many hats: singer, songwriter and producer. And wherever he lays his musical hand, eloquence and immense creative genius is the result.

So it's no surprise that his 1992 album, Life Is Messy, is an impeccable disc of mesmerizing and finely crafted pop country nuggets. With a voice that, at times, contains hints of Roy Orbison, Crowell invokes a passion and depths of feeling that is absent in a lot of other sounds that have poured forth from the country/western spigot.

Crowell has a magnetism for stellar guest vocalists and musicians: Marc Cohn, Linda Ronstadt, Don Henley, Steve Winwood, Shawn Colvin, and Sam Phillips grace this disc and do a marvelous job of blending their distinctive styles with Crowell's vision. No doubt they considered it an honor to add vocals to such richly penned tunes. Jeff Porcaro, Booker T. Jones and Alex Acuna are guests among the highly talented instrumentalists.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Crowell is a deft lyricist. He is able to convey universal emotions with crafty lyrical juxtapositions. In the title track "Life Is Messy," he sings: "Life is messy/I feel like Elvis Presley/At a very early age/They put you in a cage and they push you out on stage". Yep, life is messy indeed.

There are timeless tunes like "What Kind Of Love" and "It Don't Get Better Than This", songs that belong in a corner jukebox in a dusty roadside bar. In fact, the entire album is full of songs that would have a barfly weeping in his beer or chuckling in commiseration.

The album opens up with a quick tempo number called "It's Not For Me To Judge". This is a song with a message while lacking any modicum of preachiness. "It's not for me to judge the rhyme or the reason/If it's something I don't understand/It's not for me to judge what someone else does/There's a reason why so many people cry".

After revealing his stance on judging others, Crowell delves inside and delivers some personal songs. "I Hardly Know How To Be Myself Anymore" is a poignant ballad about holding the pain inside after a break up. (This song was co-written by his ex-wife Rosanne Cash). "I think about my life and what it's headed for/I hardly know how to be myself anymore/I know how to chase the night away/show no feelings by the light of day".

The hypnotic and dreamy "Alone But Not Alone" is perhaps the most beautiful track on the album. Crowell wraps the chorus in an amazing falsetto reminiscent of Roy Orbison. The arrangement is as subtle as a heartbeat.

This is a jewel of an album that comfortably straddles the country-western and rockabilly camps. I'm compelled not to categorize it at all. It's just simply eloquent music.

This album has been out of print for some time and, fortunately, someone has gotten wise at Sony. The reissue will be in stores on September 19, 2000. I encourage you to pick up this classic. No matter what type of music you like, it'll strike a chord.

Rating: A

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.