Rodney Crowell claims there has always been a bluesman inside of him screamin’ and cryin’ to get out. And he believes that bluesman found his way out on his next album Close Ties.
The album opener “East Houston Blues” is a jumping acoustic number that authentically captures the working class neighborhood that shaped Crowell as a kid growing up in Houston’s Third Ward. Fans can read more about his upbringing in East Houston in the mid-’50s in Crowell’s memoir Chinaberry Sidewalks.
The lyrics in “East Houston Blues” don’t shy away from the poverty and petty crime that plagued the area at the time. It was the kind of place that if you’re born into that environment, it was hard to escape. In the song, Crowell claims, “It’s in the drinking water and it’s in a poor boy’s blood.”
The final verse offers lines that are colder than a mother-in-law’s love. He sings, “I don’t believe in love/This I guarantee/If there’s a God above, he’s got it in for me.”
“I always perceived the blues as coming from Hank Williams,” Crowell said during our CMT.com interview. “He was my first understanding of music. It was a hillbilly blues, and it was a deeply sad blues. But Hank being from Lower Alabama had picked it up from the Mississippi Delta. ‘Layla’ comes from him loving Howlin’ Wolf. And ‘Honky Tonk Women’ came from Hank Williams. I love Lightnin’ Hopkins, but I went on a deeper study of it. I’m not going to sing like Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters. But I think Close Ties is the first record that I’ve made where that study and that meditation on that form of music actually formed itself inside of me and the bluesman found a way out.”
“East Houston Blues” will be available for download starting Friday (March 17). Close Ties, out March 31, features Rosanne Cash and John Paul White on “It Ain’t Over Yet” and Sheryl Crow on “I’m Tied to Ya.”