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.