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Rodney Crowell Talks New Album 'Triage'

DON GONYEA, HOST:

And finally, Rodney Crowell has for decades been an important voice in the world of country music, the list of artists who've recorded his songs include superstars like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. All along, Rodney Crowell has recorded his own albums, racking up some Grammys and country music hits in the process. But over time, his songs have gotten more personal, addressing topics like love, healing and faith.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE")

RODNEY CROWELL: (Singing) Someday, somehow something has to change.

GONYEA: That';s "Something Has To Change" from his latest album, "Triage." And Rodney Crowell is with us now to talk more about it. Rodney, hello.

CROWELL: How are you doing today?

GONYEA: Just great. So let's start with the very first song on the record. It's called "Don't Leave Me Now." You begin that song with four lines.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LEAVE ME NOW")

CROWELL: (Singing) I've been a liar. I've been untrue. I've compromised myself. But I'll make it up to you.

GONYEA: There are countless ways to start an album. You started with an admission of your own faults. Why?

CROWELL: Yeah. I thought that was a good place to start. It doesn't put me above anybody. And I certainly can't be accused of preaching. And the truth of the matter is that I did tell a lie, and it was - and I was worried about getting busted for it. And so in a lot of ways that song's a prayer, you know, like, let me come clean and forgive me. And let me see if I can restore your faith in me.

GONYEA: It starts out as a ballad. Not just the words, but the tone of it is begging for forgiveness. But then it turns and becomes up-tempo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LEAVE ME NOW")

CROWELL: (Singing) There's no wrong way. There's only your way.

Yeah. Well, you know, it starts out repenting, you know. But as I was working on it, it was a funny moment for me. I was writing this really rather sad and dark admission. I got a little ways into it, and I said, hang on. I can't go this way all the way. And it occurred to me that, you know, no, I need to pull this out musically. And I didn't really change the narrative so much as I just changed the tempo and the brightness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LEAVE ME NOW")

CROWELL: (Singing) In time, I can get this thing right.

GONYEA: You started writing and recording this album before the pandemic really hit. In fact, I understand it was mostly done, but that's not the version that was released.

CROWELL: Well, you know, I was getting close to finishing the album that I was making. And COVID, you know, the lockdown happened. It was time to come back here and ponder what I was doing. So I had time. And I started to realize that what I was trying to achieve - and I really worked really hard to make my language as grounded as I could make it so that, you know, there was something solid in what I was saying. So I, you know, got the elbow out and elbowed some songs out, wrote some more songs and ultimately made a better record.

GONYEA: Well, let's hear one of what I believe is one of those new songs. It's called "Transient Global Amnesia Blues."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRANSIENT GLOBAL AMNESIA BLUES")

CROWELL: (Singing) Would that I should be so bold, greatest story never told.

GONYEA: This is a real medical condition, I understand - transient global amnesia. And you actually had it?

CROWELL: Yeah, it was October 9, 2020. It was the morning time. And I was - went out for the walk in the hills close to my house and came home and was getting a little more exercise on the back. And I went in to make a cup of tea to get ready to arrange a song for the next day's recording session. And I left the planet, really. And, you know, after I asked my wife for the ninth time, had I made the loop, which is the trails through the hills, she threw me into the car. And we raced to the emergency room at a nearby hospital.

And the diagnosis was transient global amnesia. And, you know, there I was, you know, four hours gone from my life. I have no recollection of it whatsoever. And I have a notebook nearby. And the next morning, my daughter texted me a photograph of a sunflower growing on a piece of driftwood on the Thames River. And thank heavens my brain was still scrambled and whatever was left over of the amnesia. And, you know, I just had a clear pathway. And by the time they let me go, I had several verses written. By the time I got home, the melody was there. And that was the last song to go on the album. And it was - I sure was happy that I was able to write it and record it before the mood and the tone of how the song came to be had left me.

GONYEA: Before we let you go, I have to ask about the song "Hymn #43." It features another well-known performer, your ex-wife, Rosanne Cash, as well as her husband, John Leventhal. And their son Jacob is on this record as well. But the song itself deals with having searched for a spiritual connection in the traditional religious sense and never really finding one.

CROWELL: Well, not entirely true. I'm a believer in a God. You know, I'm a monotheist. And, you know, spiritually speaking, you know, I've been blessed. It's just that I've never found a religion that works for me. It just seemed to be too much manipulation and too much control involved in the the man behind the screen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HYMN #43")

CROWELL: (Singing) For to righteously judge my brother seems such a needless use of prayer.

That's basically what the song is about. And, you know, maybe I'll never find what some people have who are able to totally throw themselves into their belief. But I certainly am not lacking for love and care in my life from people around me. So there's a God working in my life. It just may not be the same one that some other people perceive for themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HYMN #43")

CROWELL: (Singing) Praise be the life in me.

GONYEA: The other thing about listening to this album, you're not afraid to acknowledge that maybe you have some regrets, but that you've tried to do your best or you've tried to make amends.

CROWELL: Yeah. You know, I have tried to make amends and been rebuffed. And I've been really successful at making amends. And my mistakes, you know, could fill half a book anyway. I've lived past them. I've lived through them. Looking at it that way, you know, I'm OK. I'm OK with me.

GONYEA: The lyric in "Hymn #43" says there will always be more work to do.

CROWELL: There will. Thank heavens. What if there were more work to do? I mean, what would I do if I didn't have more work to do? I could grow some tomatoes and some yellow squash and some green beans and play with my grandkids. But I sure would miss, you know, making these songs.

GONYEA: We've been talking with Rodney Crowell. His new album, "Triage," is out now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.