My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Rodney Crowell – ‘Diamonds & Dirt’

A full decade into his career as a recording artist, Rodney Crowell finally achieved some long overdue recognition with his fifth studio release, Diamonds & Dirt, which was the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful album of his career. Now signed to Columbia Records, Crowell enlisted the aid of fellow Hot Band alumnus Tony Brown to share production duties. In addition, Rodney wrote or co-wrote nine of the album’s ten songs. In lieu of the country rock sound that had dominated his previous albums, Diamonds & Dirt sought to capitalize on the popularity of the New Traditionalist movement. Marketing the album to a more mainstream country audience paid off in spades.

Released in March 1988, the album was preceded two months earlier by the single “It’s Such A Small World”, a duet with Rosanne Cash, who was on a hot streak at the time. It quickly rose to #1, becoming the highest charting single of Crowell’s career at that point, but in many people’s minds, it was Cash’s star power that propelled the record to the top of the chart. However, Crowell quickly dispelled the misconception that he couldn’t deliver the commercial goods on his own when the album’s subsequent four singles also reached the #1 spot, making Diamonds & Dirt the first album in country music history to produce five #1 hits. Following “It’s Such A Small World” to the top of the chart was the uptempo “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried”, the whimsical “She’s Crazy For Leaving” (a co-write with Guy Clark), the beautiful ballad “After All This Time”, and “Above and Beyond”, which was the one song in which Crowell did not have a hand in writing. Written by the great Harlan Howard and originally released by Buck Owens in 1960, the uptempo steel-drenched toe-tapper is my favorite song on the album — but just barely. The quality of the album’s songs is consistently excellent from start to finish, making it difficult to choose favorites, and all of them had hit single potential.

More often than not, it is the ballads that stand the test of time, and thus, “After All This Time” is the cut that received the most recurrent airplay. It was my least favorite of the album’s singles at the time of its release, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate its simple, stripped down beauty.

In many respects, Diamonds & Dirt is a one-man show, with Crowell singing lead vocals, co-producing and writing the majority of the album’s songs. However, he received a good deal of help from some of Nashville’s finest studio musicians — Glen Duncan (fiddle), Mark O’Connor (fiddle and mandolin), Paul Franklin (pedal steel), Vince Gill and Rosanne Cash, who both provided background vocals. The album was nominated for a Grammy. Rodney Crowell was on a very hot streak, which unfortunately ended almost as quickly as it began when he was unable to match Diamonds & Dirt’s success with subsequent releases.

Diamonds & Dirt reached #8 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and was certified gold. It was reissued by Columbia Legacy in 2008 with three bonus tracks. The album is easy to find and is most deserving of a spot in every country fan’s music library. If you are only going to own one Rodney Crowell album, this is the one to own.

Grade: A+

6 responses to “Album Review: Rodney Crowell – ‘Diamonds & Dirt’

  1. Occasional Hope June 6, 2012 at 9:10 am

    A great record which successfully balanced commercial appeal with artistic quality.

  2. Michael A. June 6, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Great review. The only other album to produce 5 #1 country songs was Brad Paisley’s 5th Gear and that’s only if you include “Waitin’ on a Woman” from the re-release.

  3. Andrew Leprich June 7, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    This isn’t my favorite Rodney Crowell record – that honor goes to “The Houston Kid” – but this is a five-star effort nonetheless.

  4. Paul W Dennis June 7, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    This was by far Rodney’s best album. Yes THE HOUSTON KID had a few outstanding tracks on it, but this was the most enjoyable album – not a dud track on it

    This album surprised me in that I have Crowell’s prior albums and all of them were somewhat spotty. At the time I purchased this album, I didn’t think Crowell could maintain this groove and the immediate follow up album KEYS TO THE HIGHWAY found Rodney reverting back to the spottiness that marred earlier albums, although he maintained the basic sound of DIAMONDS & DIRT for much of the album.

    • luckyoldsun June 7, 2012 at 11:37 pm

      I remember Crowell was all over TV singing “After All This Time”–with it’s jarring line “I could have killed you,”–including while sitting with Carson on the Tonight Show.

      It was great an unique, but the complex lyrics, confessional, introsepctive tone, casual demeanor, and Crowell’s somewhat thin voice were much more in line with James Taylor or Stephen Bishop than, say, George Strait and Ricky Van Shelton. It’s not surprising that his surge at country radio was very brief.

  5. Robbie Baseball November 1, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    This is one of the very few albums that, in my opinion, is without flaw. Songwriting, arrangement, grit, gravity, vocal precision, it’s all here.

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