Rodney Crowell The Houston Kid

As a songwriter who has always walked the fine line between personal conviction and the demands of Nashville, Crowell has probably never received his due respect, outside of the artists who have covered his work. That may change with this album, a song cycle encompassing his youth in Houston, TX, and one that finally shows off Crowell's skills in their purest form. There's no doubt that the songs intrinsically contain the slick touch of a Nashville veteran, but the subject matter, and overall intimacy of the recording, quickly erases any preconceived notions. Throughout the album, we follow Crowell on his journey through the past and reflect on both the good and bad aspects. "I Wish It Would Rain," "Wandering Boy," and "Highway 17" are all tragic portrayals of acquaintances lost along the way for one reason or another. Yet "I Walk The Line (Revisited)" is a joyous celebration, made even better with an appearance by its inspiration (and Crowell's former father-in-law) Johnny Cash. Crowell may always be tagged a "songwriter's songwriter," but if that means he's able to make albums as consistently engaging as this one, then I won't hesitate in using the term. (Sugar Hill)