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Sheet Music

Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, January 28, 2011, Music

Chinaberry Sidewalks

by Rodney Crowell
Knopf, 272 pp., $24.95

As a one of Texas' songwriting greats, Rodney Crowell can tell a story. No surprises there. Few would surmise his ability to write a memoir like Chinaberry Sidewalks, however. His childhood memories of Jacinto City outside of Houston vary from uproarious to heartwarming, all told with a sharp wit and a Lone Star flair. Some of his early recollections evoke Jean Shepherd's A Christmas Story, characters exploding off the page. "Cut from the Jerry Lee Lewis mold, Brother Pemberton gives the impression that he might burst into flames at any moment," Crowell writes of one his mother's favored Pentecostal preachers. "With his greasy pompadour spilling down over his eyes, his necktie flying, his shirt hanging halfway out of his pants, his face turned to the heavens like a satellite dish awaiting God's direct signals." Color aside, the life he describes is hard. There's never enough money, home is often in disrepair, and his parents are nearly always at each other's throats. And yet there's more than enough love for Crowell's father, J.W., who took him to professional football and baseball games, carried him along to witness Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, and bought the youngster a drum set at age 11 so he could be in dad's honky-tonk band. His mother, Cauzette, whose lifelong epileptic fits and whippings with switches cut from chinaberry trees give way to her loving interactions with Crowell's daughters as Nana Zeke, balances the tale. While Crowell's marriage to Rosanne Cash is briefly mentioned, this memoir boils down to the singer's love and hate for his parents, a relationship that blossoms into profound appreciation over time, brought to life in a manner that's simple, eloquent, and endlessly entertaining. (Rodney Crowell is unbound at BookPeople Friday, Jan. 28, 7pm.)

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