Working with many of the same musicians who were on his record-breaking and highly influential "Diamonds & Dirt" album from 1988, Rodney Crowell returns with another fantastic solo effort that more than covers any tenure requirements put forth by the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. It's incredibly unlikely, of course, this album - named for the badly roofed Houston house Crowell grew up in - will produce five number one singles or recalibrate his life and career like that one from more than a quarter-century ago.
The quality - 11-for-11, dudless - is nonetheless impressive. Recorded over several years while Crowell worked on other projects, including last year's Grammy-winning reunion with Emmylou Harris, "Old Yellow Moon," "Tarpaper Sky" is lively and diverse. Its engaging spirit almost certainly benefited from the fact that the musicians performed all together in one room, live-to-tape. It grooves ("Fever on the Bayou"), it moves ("Frankie Please") and it tries to soothe a broken heart (the Mary Karr-co-write "God I'm Missing You") just in songs two to four.
And Crowell's turns of phrase and characters are as wow-inducing as ever ("She's lipstick on a Pall Mall butt," "dead drunk Uncle Fireball," "And your white trash mishmash short of cash," "He was crap-shootin' crazy/A hungover, lazy, wrestling match fan" and for Guy Clark, "May you wake up smelling roses/When you're facedown in the dirt.")
Tapping into a past glory is nothing new, but Crowell looks backward while standing strong in the present, adding to his well-earned legacy with another knockout album.