By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

Rodney Crowell
"Fate's Right Hand"
Epic Records

September 11, 2003

Rodney Crowell doesn't make it easy to get into his music, though he did that with great success on 1988's terrific "Diamonds and Dirt" album, which yielded five No. 1 country singles and won a Grammy.

But now the ace songwriter, one-time member of Emmylou Harris' Hot Band and former son-in-law of country icon Johnny Cash, is into his 50s, and he's got things to say.On his previous CD, "The Houston Kid," he dealt with his past and earned many critics' comeback-of-the-year award. With "Fate's Right Hand," Crowell writes about the present and the future: his, ours and the world's. It is a stunning mix of hope and dismay, kind of the way life is.

On "Still Learning to Fly," Crowell acknowledges that his life has been "good, I guess," and he insists he's not ready to slow down. But in the title song, a kind of Americana rap, he laments the crass, the crude, the criminal and the plain stupid among us and admits, "Fate's right hand ... I don't understand, at all."

The next song, "Earthbound," returns to the positive spin, with Tom Waits, Aretha Franklin, Walter Cronkite and the Dalai Lama given as reasons to "stick around."

Crowell pulls no punches, whether he's talking about "The Man in Me" or the urban nightmare of "Ridin' Out the Storm," and he defiantly says he'll keep speaking out even if he's just "Preachin' to the Choir."

At times, you just want to say, "Rodney, lighten up," but the music, abetted by players such as dobro king Jerry Douglas, keeps the CD moving until Crowell assures us that "This Too Will Pass" (a tip of the hat to the late George Harrison).

No, it's not easy, but, like honest work, it is rewarding.