Life Is Messy

As one of Nashville’s most literate rock & roll-based tunesmiths (”Shame on the Moon,” ”’Til I Gain Control Again”), Rodney Crowell influenced an entire school of progressive country songwriting before scoring big as a performer with his 1988 album, Diamonds & Dirt. Since then he’s gone through a tumultuous divorce from singer Rosanne Cash, an event that shapes much of his new album. Most of the songs on Life Is Messy, either embrace Crowell’s anxiety and pain (the metaphorically confused ”Alone But Not Alone”) or celebrate his new sexual freedom (the randy ”Lovin’ All Night”). Ironically, he and Cash cowrote the best of the lot, ”I Hardly Know How to Be Myself,” in which a piano and relentless drumbeat echo the hollowness of a barely beating heart. Crowell’s keening tenor-at times reminiscent of the young Roy Orbison-is a constant pleasure, but too many of his songs splinter into nebulousness with the occasional joltingly bad line (”Life is messy/I feel like Elvis Presley”). As someone who has written sensitively about emotional hardship without getting mawkish, Crowell ought to know that some purging may indeed be therapy, but unfocused catharsis doesn’t always make for great art. C+

Life Is Messy
  • Music