It’s not uncommon for certain members of musical genres to become cliquey, forbidding outside entrance from other genres. Of them all, country in particular has enjoyed its embrace of tradition, shunning any meddling from the greater musical world. This stereotype is certainly not without its exceptions, though, and country’s stylistic wanderlust is notably and perhaps best exemplified by Rodney Crowell.
In the ’70s and ’80s, after outlaw country artists had begun to favor more personal storytelling while keeping their feet anchored to country’s roots, Rodney Crowell emerged as an artist willing to fold in influences that stretched beyond typical touchstones like Hank Williams. As a songwriter and performer, Crowell found his fans among both musicians and common folk as early as the ’70s. Then he struck gold with his 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt, netting five number-one singles. Even compared to the alt-country artists that began to emerge by then, with their punk credibility and traction with younger listeners, Crowell held his own in accessing pub rock, New Wave, Roy Orbison-esque melodrama and sonically references to early Beatles with “I Know You’re Married.”
Crowell reached back for the past and brought it into the present, all without sacrificing the innate twang and charm that initially garnered him praise in the country world. At the time, with New Wave and punk artists having paved the way for contemporary artists to reference older music in a hip way, Crowell took that nudge and pushed it into a genre that can be quite unforgiving. Of course, it wouldn’t be too much longer before country artists were simultaneously utilizing and denouncing hip hop, but there you have it.
After the spectacular success of Diamonds & Dirt, both financial and critical, Crowell remained prolific as a performer but more frequently as a songwriter. He’s maintained his status as a music fan’s musician — sound enough in his fundamentals to create a song to satisfy the purists, but always yearning to raise the bar. Now in his older age, Crowell remains an artist that delights in subverting expectations and nestling into his status as an idiosyncratic outsider and indispensable figure of the progressive country scene. His most recent album came out just this year, and he shows no signs of slowing down or compromising. If anything, Crowell demonstrates he’s just settling in.
What: Rodney Crowell with Ericka Corben
Where: Capitol Theater,
205 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, July 8
How much: $20-$25
Learn more: 360-754-6670 | OFS