Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Feb. 4, 2011
Rodney CrowellBookPeople, Jan. 28
The word is out on Rodney Crowell's new memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks. Before an overflow crowd just across the street from where one might otherwise expect an in-store by the master songwriter – Waterloo Records – the Texan read excerpts from the love letter to his parents, giving a thrilling taste of his ability to convey a tale without music but still with fascinating detail, somber wit, and a huge heart. In a porkpie hat and dark sweater, he looked more like a hipster poet than a country music star, but that didn't prevent him from picking up an acoustic guitar for a few unamplified songs between the storytelling, even breaking out a delightful cover of Guy Clark's "Stuff That Works." Crowell explained that he began writing the book (see "Phases & Stages," Jan. 28) mostly as a collection of stories from his childhood around the time he recorded his critically lauded The Houston Kid, which is based on similar themes. He struggled with the memoir over 10 years, but claimed that "writing a book made songwriting easier." Taking inspiration from Mary Karr's The Liars' Club, an equally gritty life story, Crowell then performed two songs they've written together. One, seemingly titled "Sister O Sister," echoed childhood remembrances. When asked about a follow-up book that would focus on his latter years, and perhaps his time with Rosanne Cash, Crowell put the idea to rest succinctly, saying, "I think what my parents were doing was far more exciting."