April 09, 2001 12:00 PM

Rodney Crowell (Sugar Hill)

Album of the week

[STARS 1]

This often autobiographical album is written in a three-part harmony of poverty, misspent youth and spousal abuse. Singer-songwriter Crowell’s soul-baring emotions about his troubled Texas boyhood are so intimate in these 11 songs that listening is like peeking into a diary. Two of the most affecting cuts—cuts that bleed—are “The Rock of My Soul,” the somber portrait of a drunken, wife-beating dad as seen through the eyes of his son, and “Wandering Boy,” which paints a heartbreaking picture of twin brothers, one straight and one gay, who must come to terms with how their relationship is shaken when AIDS enters their lives.

Squarely supported on most tracks by his longtime backup players Steuart Smith on guitars and Michael Rhodes on bass (as well as ex-father-in-law Johnny Cash’s duetting on a pumping paean to the Man in Black’s 1956 country-chart topper “I Walk the Line”), the artist hasn’t sounded this vital or glaringly honest for quite a spell. In a 23-year recording career that has produced 10 albums, numerous No. 1 singles and a Grammy award for songwriting, Rodney Crowell may well have achieved his masterpiece with The Houston Kid.

Bottom Line: Houston, we have liftoff

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