Fate's Right Hand
The Music Box's #6 album for 2003
First Appeared at The Music Box, September 2003, Volume 10, #9
Written by John Metzger
In a career that began more than 30 years ago, Rodney Crowell has performed in Emmylou Harris’ band, penned eight Top 10 country singles, and seen his songs covered by everyone from Dream Syndicate to Willie Nelson. Yet, he remains a songwriter’s songwriter who, like many great wordsmiths, has long lived in the shadows of his Nashville peers. Part of his problem in reaching a wider audience via his own recordings — Diamonds & Dirt notwithstanding — has been the country capitol’s continued insistence on churning out fluffy pop as well as its intolerance of artists who not only delve into weightier material but also dare to dabble in styles that range from rock to R&B and everything in between. This is nothing new, of course, but it’s a gradually worsening situation that leaves an artist like Crowell with little chance at some much-needed exposure.
With the release of 2001’s The Houston Kid, however, Crowell seemingly was reborn as he wove together a critically lauded song cycle that was at least partially autobiographical in nature. Fate’s Right Hand, his latest effort, finds him focusing less on the past, and instead offering his observations and musings on both the present and the future, all with his customary keen eye for capturing the quintessential human experience. The songs are bound together by the destinies of their characters and the choices that they make as they go about living their lives. Although Crowell speaks from personal experience, he implores the listener to take the introspective journey with him. It’s an album that questions what fate means. It’s about making decisions, and how those conclusions inevitably determine the pathways that we traverse — be they the Clinton-Lewinsky-Starr debacle or the educated man who finds himself homeless. It’s about coming to grips with oneself and trying to be a better person. It’s about living within our societal means and halting the imposition of Western culture on civilizations around the globe. It’s about acceptance of personal responsibility and understanding what things are beyond our control.
These are weighty subjects, indeed, but rather than simply turning them into quiet, somber ruminations, Crowell gives many of them a pop-fueled, country-rock punch, saving the softer moments for when they are needed most. Though several songs on Fate’s Right Hand are about death, they hardly sound morbid. Instead, he props them up with the hope that springs from the warm arrangements of his buoyant, easy-going melodies. Hints of Jackson Browne, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore drift throughout the album — much like they have drifted throughout the music of Crowell’s career — while an all-star supporting cast that includes John Cowan, Will Kimbrough, Kim Richey, David Rawlings, Gillian Welch, Jerry Douglas, and Béla Fleck helps to breathe life into Crowell’s magnificent vision. In doing so, the song cycle takes on a third dimension, immersing the listener within a cinematic reflection about the meaning of life and the need to face it head-on. In other words, Fate’s Right Hand is a work of art; it’s a masterpiece, through and through, one that shimmers with all the joy and heartache of every day living in a world gone mad. Unfortunately, country radio will probably choose to avoid the material entirely. Don’t make the same mistake.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box