My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Rodney Crowell – ‘Jewel of the South’

1994’s Let The Picture Paint Itself reunited Rodney Crowell with co-producer Tony Brown, and though they were unable to recapture the commercial spark of Diamonds & Dirt, they collaborated again for the following year’s Jewel of the South. It was the last project they worked on together.

Though not as traditional nor as satisfying as Diamonds & Dirt, Jewel of the South is nonetheless a solid album. Unfortunately, Rodney’s commercial momentum had been lost by this point, and the album did not receive the recognition it deserved. The album’s lone single was “Please Remember Me”, which Crowell wrote with Will Jennings. It stalled at #69. Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt later covered the song, as did Tim McGraw, who took it all the way to #1 on the country charts and #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1999. For the record, I prefer Crowell’s version to McGraw’s.

Crowell had a hand in writing eight of the album’s eleven tracks, including the brief Tex-Mex flavored closing track “Que Is Amor” which lists Will Jennings and the late Roy Orbison as co-writers. Clocking it at just over a minute and a half, the song doesn’t doesn’t say much or add much to the album. It is, however, very much the exception because the rest of the album’s tracks are solid. The rock-tinged “Love to Burn” reunites Crowell and Jennings with Hank DeVito; the result is reminiscent of the music Rodney made back in his Warner Bros. days. One of the album’s best tracks is the introspective “Thinkin’ About Leavin'”, which is about musician who apparently gave up life on the road for a marriage and family and is now experiencing some regret. The lyrics seem to serve as a metaphor for Rodney’s declining commercial appeal:

Sometimes I miss the bright lights sometimes I miss the crowd
Sometimes I miss the women sometimes the music loud
Sometimes I miss that world out there so cold hard and unkind
I’ve been thinking about leaving long enough to change my mind

Sometimes I miss the bright lights sometimes I miss the noise
Sometimes I miss the women sometimes the good old boys
Sometimes I miss that world out there so cold hard and unkind
And I’ve been thinking about leaving long enough to change my mind

In addition to Rodney’s original material, there are some well-chosen covers. The Harlan Howard-Buck Owens tune “Storm of Love” is perhaps an attempt to recreate the magic of “Above and Beyond”. It’s not quite as good as “Above and Beyond” but it’s still the album’s best track. There is also a very good rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Candy Man”, complete with a bluesy harmonica solo.

Despite a solid set of songs and Rodney’s connections to the label brass, Jewel of the South was a commercial failure and was Rodney’s last for MCA. It’s still worth listening to and fortunately inexpensive copies are easy to find, including a 2-for-1 import release that also contains Let The Picture Paint Itself.

Grade: B

2 responses to “Album Review: Rodney Crowell – ‘Jewel of the South’

  1. Jonathan Pappalardo June 18, 2012 at 9:21 am

    “Thinkin’ About Leavin'” saw a second life when co-writer Dwight Yoakam recorded it for his 1999 Last Chance For 1000 Years album. Released as the second and final single from the Greatest Hits package, it peaked at #54 on the Billboard Country Singles Chart. To this day, it’s one of my all time favorite songs Yoakam has ever recorded. “Thinkin’ About Leavin'” is also one of Yoakam’s more accessible recordings during this period (his late 90s work was prone to much experimentation).

    Until reading this review, I was unaware Crowell had any connection to the song. It seems that Yoakam altered the original lyric sheet just slightly from Crowell’s original and therefore his version credits both as songwriters. It is indeed a very, very, well crafted song.

    As for “Please Remember Me,” I recall reading that Crowell wrote that song when he and then girlfriend Claudia Church (who had a very brief career as a major label country singer in the late 90s, recording for Reprise Records) had broken up for a time and he was admitting his mistakes in the relationship. The pair reunited and have been married since 1998.

    I’ve never really sought out Crowell’s version of the song thus coming to know “Please Remember Me” through Tim McGraw. I love the song but it’s too bad it was chosen as Scotty McCreery’s contribution to the long-line of past Idols singing a goodbye song in a subsequent season. McGraw give the song the attention it deserved. McCreery’s comes off as bad karaoke.

    As between Crowell and McGraw, I have no option on which version is superior.

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