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A look at country music with Johnny Cash and family

April 30, 2014

Classify Rodney Crowell as one of the elite tunesmiths anywhere, let alone Nashville where he resides. He performs at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River next Thursday to tout his new album called “Tarpaper Sky.” It’s a beauty and Ear Bliss gives it, along with a new release of previously unissued Johnny Cash material, the look-see this week.

Rodney Crowell
“Tarpaper Sky”
New West Records

Some can say Rodney Crowell has done it all in his long career. He hit Nashville arriving from Texas in the early 1970s and fell into a songwriter enclave with such heavy hitters as Guy Clarke and Townes Van Zandt. Emmylou Harris would include one of his songs on her 1975 album Elite Hotel and after sitting in wither at a gig, he’d join her legendary Hot Band. Crowell would marry into country music royalty in 1979 with his marriage to Rosanne Cash and his relationship with father-in-law, Johnny Cash. After some minor success as a recording artist, he’d finally strike country good in 1988 with the album “Diamonds & Dirt” which yielded five consecutive number one country songs. Follow-up album “Keys to the Highway” in 1989 would yield another couple of number singles making Crowell one of the hottest artists in country music. Whereas he would continue to make albums, the changing tides in country music would lead to varying levels of success and see Crowell concentrate more on the songwriting side of the equation, one that would lead to a slew of terrific and tasteful albums up to this point. Crowell’s latest called “Tarpaper Sky” maintains that streak of stellar albums. His first album for Americana imprint New West Records, “Tarpaper Sky” finds Crowell looking back both in subject matter and band. On the latter front, The Tarpaper Band includes three players who backed him on his pivotal “Diamonds & Dirt album” – guitarist Steuart Smith, bass player Michael Rhodes, and drummer Eddie Bayers. Not surprisingly, the music and songs of “Tarpaper Sky” are about as close as Crowell has come to the sounds of those late ‘80s heydays. The songs span the reflective leadoff track “The Long Journey Home” to the sweet Cajun country bounce of “Fever On the Bayou” to the rockabilly fever of “Frankie Please” to the spare solitude of “God I’m Missing You.” Recommended. Visit

Rodney Crowell appears at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, Mass. (16 Anawan St.) on Thursday, May 8. Mississippi songstress Shannon McNally opens. Music begins at 8 p.m.

Johnny Cash
“Out Among the Stars”
Columbia/Legacy Recordings

Artistically speaking, the 1980s was not a good decade for Johnny Cash. It was a career that was on the downside in a void between the highs of the Sun Records days and then his prolific 1960s and ‘70s output for Columbia Records and preceding his Rick Rubin-resurrected comeback of the 1990s that yielded his American recordings. Featuring 13 previously unreleased recordings made in 1981 and ’84 with legendary Nashville producer Billy Sherrill at the helm, the tracks comprising “Out Among the Stars” were laid down during a period where country music was heavy on the schmaltz and arguably at its lowest ebb ever. As the story goes, the recordings were shelved by Columbia Records and only rediscovered two years ago by Cash’s son, John Carter Cash. Not that you can tell by listening to Cash’s voice on these tracks that his career was at a low. It’s hard not hear the exuberance in his voice and feel that he is having the time of his life. All but two of the songs are covers, but the cover selections are right on and range from a freight train-fast moving version of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” with Waylon Jennings guest starring on vocals to a June Carter duet on Richard Dobson’s “Baby Ride Easy” to the cute country fiction of “If I Told You Who It Was” about changing his favorite country singer’s tire. Frankly speaking, “Out Among the Stars” is best classified as Johnny Cash “lite” and should appeal to the overall Man in Black fans out there. Visit

Music at Lilypads (27 North Road, Peace Dale) celebrates the birthday of the recently departed folk icon Pete Seeger on Saturday evening. On hand for the celebration are local folkies Joyce Katzberg, Jan Luby, Sandy Pliskin, Marcia Taylor and Jimmy Warren. Doors are at 7 and the celebration begins at 7:30 p.m.

Vintage soul, funk, and blues is the order of business on Saturday as Brooklyn band The Revelations with guest star singer Jesse Dee invade The Knickerbocker Café in Westerly. The band has a fine new album just out called “The Cost of Living” (Decision Records). The album is proof-positive that it should be a pretty hip shaking night of fun at The Knick. Music begins at 8 p.m.

Get your Cinco de Mayo celebration going a day early, that being “Quatro de Mayo,” at the Ocean Mist (895 Matunuck Beach Road, Matunuck) on Sunday with the flavorful sounds of Rhode Island-based multi-cultural band Santa Mamba.

The first Sunday of the month means acoustic open mic night at the Wood River Inn (Main Street) in downtown Wyoming, R.I. The fun begins at 6 p.m.

The music of Texas Ben Kweller has always managed to find that sweet spot in the various offshoots of pop he has delivered since breaking out as a 19-year-old wunderkind in 2001. He brings his infectious sounds to the Met Café in Pawtucket (1005 Main St.) next Thursday night. Doors are at 8 and music begins at 9 p.m.

Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.


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