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Rodney Crowell has a few ‘Close Ties’ to share with Cleveland (concert preview)

April 10, 2018 GMT

Rodney Crowell has a few ‘Close Ties’ to share with Cleveland (concert preview)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – A catchy melody, a snazzy riff or a driving beat can give a song life, but only the beauty of the language can give it immortality.

Rodney Crowell, who returns to Northeast Ohio for a show at the intimate Music Box Supper Club on Saturday, April 14, understands that.

It’s true that there are exceptions – classical music, jazz and such – but for a troubadour like Crowell, it’s words, words, words.

“I was having a conversation with Ray Kennedy (a renowned singer-songwriter-producer-engineer who’s best known for his work with Americana star Steve Earle) about co-writing,″ Crowell said in a call from his kitchen table in Tennessee. “In England, they can use drum loops and write something and record that same day.

“Good grief!″ Crowell exclaimed. “It takes me a month, maybe two months to find the center of the language that comes up with the kind of lines you’re talking about.″

It’s not that he can’t do it, though. It’s more that he won’t.

“I can stitch a song together in about an hour anytime you want, but it won’t have the depth,″ he said.

“It varies from song to song, but melody was always easy for me,″ Crowell said. Whatever tune comes from his guitar “might be derivative,″ but it’ll be melodic.

“But really finding the song and uncovering and really sculpting good language? That’s what I spend time with,″ he said.

That shows on his latest album, the Grammy-nominated “Close Ties.″ Highly reflective, it shows the effects – all positive – of 67 years on this Earth, and trying to capture the memories, hopes, and tragedies encompassed in that span.

“It Ain’t Over Yet″ is a wonderfully introspective pairing of Crowell; his ex-wife, Rosanne Cash; and the former male half of country’s amazing but now defunct duo Civil Wars, John Paul White. The meshing of the voices is as pure as it gets, but as you might expect, it’s Crowell’s lyrics that give the song the “depth.″

That and the chemistry that comes through in blended voices, of course.

“Sensibilities,″ said Crowell, asked what has made collaborations with Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and, of course, Cash and White, work so well.

“We laugh a lot together, I guess,″ he said. “If you laugh at the same things and you laugh without being self-conscious, it works. Same with John Paul and of course with Rosanne.″

To the layman, it may be a little odd to consider working with your ex-wife. But enough time has passed – they married in 1979 and divorced 13 years later, and have three children together – to put things in perspective.

“Now we laugh at who we were,″ he said. “It was sweet who we were. We always say about that marriage, it ended, but it was a success. We learned a lot from each other.″

Perspective gets a big role in “Close Ties,″ in particular with a song called “Nashville 1972,″ which chronicles a bit of what he’s seen since leaving his native Texas – his nickname is, after all, “The Houston Kid,″ which is also the title of one of his best-loved albums.

As you would expect from a Crowell song it’s full of great lines, including one that goes, “Things have changed ’round here, you bet / But it don’t seem much better yet.″

By his own admission, luck brought him to Music City around the same time songwriters Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Mick Newbury, David Olney and Steve Earle.

“We had the luxury of money not being part of the equation,″ he said laughing, remembering those early days of struggling to keep the fridge stocked. “We had late-night guitar and song-swapping sessions, and the discussions we had were never about money.

“The discussion was always, ‘How do you get better at this?’ ″ he said.

Nashville today – and in some respects even back then – is first and foremost about what kind of bank a song will get. Crowell fell into that trap for a while, but realized he could be true to his own idea of art and still be financially successful enough to make a good living. Being true to his own ideals was his first priority.

“As a creative individual, I really go out of my way to avoid the corporate scene in terms of songwriting,″ he said. “If the first question is how much money is it going to make, I’m going to be in trouble anyway.″

For years now, Crowell has given himself over to the art of music and not the business.

In some ways, that’s why his stint as music director the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Music Masters tribute to the Everly Brothers in 2014 and the show-stopping “Bye Bye Love″ finale was so memorable.

“The one thing we didn’t know was if we’d get Don to come,″ said Crowell. Months earlier, his younger brother Phil had died. “The we didn’t know if we’d get him into the hall to hear it. We didn’t know if it would please him and we didn’t know if he would sing.

“Then all of a sudden, there he was,″ Crowell said, the chills of the night briefly surfacing in the voice, “Everybody stopped singing and there was his voice.

“That was a particular moment I’ll never forget.″

Crowell fans can relate. After all, it was a snatch of immortality, right?

Rodney Crowell When: 8 p.m. Saturday, April 14. Where: Music Box Supper Club, 1048 Main Street on the west bank of Cleveland’s Flats. Opener: Jedd Hughes. Tickets: $28 in advance, $32 day of show, plus fees, at the box office, online at musicboxcle.com and by phone at 216-242-1250.