Jake City (6/17/2001)
Bee Gees, This Is Where I Came In (Universal Records 2001) - This Is Where I Came In marks the 28th album from the Brothers Gibb. Lest you think time has passed them by, their last studio release (Still Waters in 1996) sold five million units, and their 1998 live album, One Night Only, sold six million units.
So don't kid yourself. The hit-making combo that generated such hits as "Stayin' Alive" and "Night Fever" is as strong as ever. Front and center are the Bee Gees' terrific harmony vocals and sure sense of pop. Says Barry Gibb, "This Is Where I Came In is really about us. It's our way of saying that nothing ever really changes. The music really doesn't ever change. There are only so many notes on a piano . . . It's back to basics, it's back to live performances. It's back to playing music, as opposed to programming music."
Adds Robin Gibb, "The record is kind of full circle. I like the title because it speaks about our whole career. What I also like about it is musically, it's filled with all kinds of sounds and different elements."
The 12 songs on This Is Where I Came In were all written by Barry, Robin & Maurice Gibb. Listen for the beautiful "Walking On Air," which brings to mind The Beach Boys, and ask yourself: what if Brian Wilson produced a Bee Gees album?
Another standout is "Sacred Trust," which builds to a lovely layered finale. And you'll hear elements of Jeff Lynne's (ELO) vocal approach on songs like "Loose Talk Costs Lives."
You don't get this kind of studio perfection without a lot of hard work. According to the press kit, "Each of the brothers went into the studio and created several tracks on his own, then they got together to finish writing and recording the songs."
Explains to Robin Gibb, "The one thing I like about what we've done on the new album is that we decided to take time out and the three of us, to individually go off and do our own thing in another studio, wherever that may be, and contribute to the album in our own way. So Barry went off and did his. I went to London and did mine. Maurice went off and did his. And over a period of six or seven months, we did about three or four tracks each and then we came back together and then we did three or four tracks together as the Bee Gees in the studio. I love this way of working."
This Is Where I Came In doesn't miss a beat. The album is a seamless piece of work, and is sure to generate radio hits.
Rodney Crowell, The Houston Kid (Sugar Hill 2001) - Now age 50, Rodney Crowell scored his biggest success when he was married to Rosanne Cash and charted five hits with Diamonds & Dirt (1989).
The Houston Kid is Crowell's ninth album, and first new release in six years. The album is an affecting performance, with Crowell conjuring up a strong sense of place and time with his images of trucks spraying DDT, waiting for the ice cream truck, and standing in the shadows of the Astrodome.
Says the singer, "It's autobiographical, but at the same time, it's autobiography drawn from the atmosphere in which I lived . . . At a certain point, I needed more drama, so I annexed some kids from down the street who grew up in similar circumstances to me and who became petty criminals and went to jail."
Crowell was born in 1950 in an area of East Houston known as Jacinto City or Jake City, and lived there until 1972. Crowell moved to Nashville, and was hired on in 1975 in Emmylou Harris' Hot Band. Crowell was guitarist and harmony singer, a job that had been held by Herb Pedersen and would later be filled by Ricky Scaggs, Vince Gill and Carl Jackson.
Says Crowell, "When I first left Houston, I tried to deny my background. And when I had a little success in the music business, I felt like I was wearing the emperor's new clothes. I was suddenly rubbing elbows with millionaires, and I had never been in a sit-down restaurant until I was 13. I was ashamed at my lack of worldliness."
Yet his three years with Emmylou would change his career. Says Crowell, "Going on the road with Emmylou took me into another realm. I got into this band with cats who had been on jillions of recording dates in L.A. with Elvis and everyone, and I got a crash course in arranging. Before it had all been songwriting. What I learned from them is what played out in the records I've produced."
The Houston Kid is the kind of music Kevin Welch and The Dead Reckoners have been making for years; anti-Nashville, anti-Dixie Chicks, anti-Big Hat, with an emphasis on songwriting and finger picking. No twang here, just good songs.
Crowell provides acoustic and electric guitar, percussion, and vocals, and is joined by Steuart Smith on guitars, Michael Rhodes on bass, Phil Leim on drums, Fletcher Watson III on acoustic guitar and bouzouki, and John Hobbs on organ and keyboards. Also appearing is John Cowan, with backing vocals on several tracks and guitar player Kenny Greenberg on "Topsy Turvy."
Now older and wiser, and aware that the Nashville hit parade has passed him by, Crowell is making music on his own terms. "'Why Don't We Talk About It Now' was written late in the making of the record and is included as a present-day snapshot of what life is like here at Music City now that I no longer feel a particular need to fit in. I like its simple truth and relaxed delivery."
Continues Crowell: "To let sleeping dogs lie is probably sage advice, however, I chose to ignore the counsel of those who tagged the song too personal for public consumption. ["Topsy Turvy" talks about the fighting between his parents in the 50s and 60s.] If the truth is too personal, then so be it. I stand by the song not as an indictment of my father's rage nor my mother's pathos but as a testament to their triumph over their lesser selves."
For "I Walk The Line (Revisited)," Crowell joined with his ex-father-in-law, Johnny Cash. (Crowell is now married to country cutie Claudia Church.) Crowell wrote a new melody, then invited Johnny Cash to help him in the studio. When Cash finally learned what was going on, he said, "You've got a lot of nerve changing my song, son." Says Crowell, "That's when the gravity sort of hit me."
Crowell continues: "He had me kind of strung up. Then June Carter Cash walked in and said, 'John, you be nice. That's a tribute to you, and a damn good one.'" According to a relieved Crowell, "That's when I knew he was kidding."
The hurt for Crowell from his breakup with Rosanne is still present (just as it is with Ms. Cash). In "Topsy Turvy," Crowell sings of a troubled couple and says, "I don't like nothin' about the way we live," while "U Don't Know How Much I Hate U" is self-explanatory.
The Houston Kid closes with the gentle ballad, "I Know Love Is All I Need," which begins with Crowell's acknowledgment that, "So, I'm an orphan now," and ends with a dream of his parents (both deceased) moving into a new house. Sings Crowell, "When I awoke/They were gone again."
Rodney Crowell has conquered some of his inner demons, and is ready to move on with his life. The Houston Kid reflects good songwriting, and good storytelling, too.
- Randy Krbechek © 2001
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