The Outsider by Rodney Crowell
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Rodney Crowell's on a roll. The Outsider
may be a cut below its predecessor, the artistic, critical, and commercial breakthrough that was Fate's Right Hand
--perhaps the element of surprise is gone, perhaps the songs aren't quite as sharp, perhaps it's just not possible to catch lightning in a bottle twice in a row--but that was a tough act to follow, and this one's none too shabby. It's his most topical effort yet. After teaching a generation how to write modern country songs, Crowell, it turns out, all along really just wanted to rock. Rockin' Rodney employs guitars that ring, spring, crunch, and snarl, and writes songs full of Dylanesque lyrics (only the portentous and cornball "Ignorance Is the Enemy" falls flat). In fact, he's so under the sway of Bobby D. that he name-checks the man in "Beautiful Despair" and, with the help of Emmylou Harris, turns Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm" into such a moving duet that the very idea seems like a no-brainer. Why hadn't somebody thought of it sooner? --John Morthland