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Rodney Crowell stays the course of old-school country

Rodney Crowell will perform solo set Aug. 8 City Winery.

Rodney Crowell will perform a solo set on Aug. 8 at City Winery.

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An Evening with Rodney Crowell, 8 p.m., Aug. 8, City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph. $28-$3. (312) 733-WINE;

Updated: August 1, 2013 10:32AM

At a time when certain music traditionalists find themselves questioning the direction of mainstream country music, and cringing at the sheer thought of another song about trucks and beers and girls, singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell patiently awaits the emergence of the true poet.

“I watch these young country artists come in and burst onto the scene, and I always have to remind myself that these artists didn’t experience Hank Williams Sr. or Big Joe Turner or Kris Kristofferson, who was able to bring the bedroom and sensual poetry into country music,” says Crowell during a recent interview. “These artists came from a different set of archetypal images. If I took the old school curmudgeon approach, I would say these guys are really missing the boat.”

And then, the Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter with the bushy tuft of grey hair and the perfectly placed wrinkles seems to rethink his thoughts. He excuses himself for a moment to take a sip of his tea and a bite of his half-eaten bagel left over from his early morning visit to the recording studio.

“I don’t want to sit here with a narrow mindset,” Crowell says. “Look at the old-school painters. They gave the Impressionists a hard time when they came along because they didn’t understand it and didn’t open their minds wide enough to realize that often, the best art surfaces through new forms of expression.”

Headlining Aug. 8 at City Winery, it wasn’t that long ago that Crowell himself fit that mold of the slick new country singer, hitting mainstream success with his 1988 release, “Diamonds and Dirt,” which spawned five number one singles such as “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried” and “After All This Time.” Since then, Crowell has produced for the likes of Rosanne Cash and Chely Wright, and is currently touring alongside fellow icon Emmylou Harris in support of their recent collaboration on “Old Yellow Moon.” Yet, Crowell’s City Winery date will mark the first time in a long time he will take the stage without his Harris, his friend and longtime muse.

“[Emmy] and I have a bit of a break in August, so the City Winery show will bring me back to just getting up there on stage all by myself,” says Crowell, who fully expects to put out another record with Harris in the future. “It’s not that hard of a transition to move from a more structured set night after night to a more freewheeling kind of delivery that we will do in Chicago this time. The audience participation makes those shows even more interesting. If someone is adamant about hearing a song I didn’t think of, they are more than welcome to shout it out. I learned a long time ago most ideas are better than mine.”

Currently working on his next solo album, Crowell says he does his best work early in the morning and looks forward to being pushed farther out of his established comfort zone. “Working on this new album has required I learn a new technique on guitar, for example,” he explains. “I also find myself at this point where a new song keeps coming along to elbow other ones out of the lineup. It takes a minute to let that initial impact and romance of a new song settle in before I can really evaluate if it’s really good enough to bump this other one off. I can have trouble closing an album out but I don’t have any trouble drawing a line through a song. It’s just a revision after all.”

Tricia Despres is a Sun-Times free-lance writer.

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