Singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell at Clearwater Friday • St Pete Catalyst

Fifteen of Rodney Crowell’s songs reached number one on the country music charts, among a wide range of recording artists who knew a good tune when they heard it.

Only five of them were Crowell’s own recordings, but they all came from a single album, the 1988 one. Diamonds and dirt. It’s still a Nashville record worthy of the Guinness boys.

It was before, it is now. The 71-year-old Houston-born scribe is now considered a statesman among American songwriters. And while he’s justifiably proud of his past accomplishments, Crowell — who will perform an acoustic trio show at the Capitol Theater on Friday — believes his career really began a quarter century ago, when he gave up on be a people-pleasing hitmaker. .

“They gave me a lot of money,” Crowell recalled, “so I became indebted to the man. I’m best when I function instinctively. I think everyone is. This desire to be recognized, to be a star in quotes, and then to hit the jackpot and find out how disappointing it was for me… I actually closed in. I turned off the jets for four or five years.

From the years 2001 Houston’s Kid album, his music became more introspective, less commercial. He made a conscious decision to create when he felt inspired, rather than meeting an arbitrary business deadline. “And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since, with good results and average results,” he reports.

These days, he says, he makes a “good and honest living.”

Crowell’s most recent series of songs, Sorting, finds him a contemplative mood. Songs like the title track, “Don’t Leave Me Now” and the darkly introspective “Transient Global Amnesia Blues” ask questions about mortality, fate and consequences.

“The more I advance in this field, the more my story becomes singular,” he says. “Which is as it should be. People that I look up to, Leonard Cohen, if you look at the end of his career, he left us singularly bread crumbs, how to die, you know? These songs are not “Hallelujah”, these songs are like songs to die for.

“And that meant a lot to me. So I was more interested in his singular point of view than his general point of view.

So where does that leave the starry-eyed young messenger of “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried”, “She’s Crazy To Leave” and the other card-burners. Diamonds and dirt? It is clear that Rodney Crowell, as a former statesman, is no longer careless. Law?

“Oh, but I am,” he laughs. “You can ask my wife and kids, and they’ll say I’m still the same. And I would just say, hey, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and there are times when I need to explore certain aspects of myself that aren’t careless. But I still have fun. »

One of the costs of his Faustian deal for early stardom was his marriage to singer Rosanne Cash. They were Nashville’s “it couple” in the ’80s, but broke up in the ’90s.

His marriage to singer Claudia Church in 1998 – they had met while filming the music video for her No. 1 song ‘Lovin’ All Night’ – opened the next chapter. He didn’t say goodbye, exactly, to the public who knew him from his hit records, or from his previous stint as a sideman, songwriter and stage partner for Emmylou Harris – he just kind of waved to them. wondered if they would be willing to take the bumpy road with him.

“I made a commitment not to try to win them back with what I had already done,” says Crowell. “And I’ve really said, out loud, over and over again, if I can’t hold the audience down with what I’m doing now, I should fold the tent. So I stuck with that…and the audience grew with that.

Absolute honesty – the poet’s manifesto – is therefore his common thread. He is working on another album, the sequel to the critically acclaimed Sorting. “And I have something else I’m planning to do that will probably sound happy.”

Not so long ago, Crowell heard singer Torres’ version of “Making Memories of Us,” one of his songs that Keith Urban had taken to the top of the charts.

“I listened to it and thought, ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’ I really swelled inside, because this song is something that I wrote from the bottom of my heart for Claudia Torres did it in his own way, and I thought it was beautiful.

His longtime friend Willie Nelson recently covered “I’ll Love You Until The Day I Die,” which Crowell co-wrote with Chris Stapleton. “That song was something I had in my head for 30 years,” he says.

“If it’s an old statesman…shoot yeah, baby.” I’m your man!”

Tickets for Friday’s concert are here.

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