In the '80s, Rodney Crowell was a Nashville insider with a Midas touch, writing and producing hits for then-wife Rosanne Cash and charting with left-of-center New Traditionalism to the tune of five consecutive No. 1 singles (a streak not even Garth could match). But the title of his most recent album, The Outsider, makes Crowell's current industry status clear, meaning he can kick up Americana turf with bitter and witty wordplay as well as indulge in hectoring right-wing nuts and oil wars. He's got nothing to lose but a folk Grammy nomination though he's better when confessing that "beautiful despair is hearing Dylan when you're drunk at 3 a.m." over a percolating drum loop, or just reuniting with his old boss Emmylou Harris on "Shelter From the Storm" to make the sentiment stick.
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