Rodney Crowell's The Outsider is a natural extension of his last two offerings: The Houston Kid and Fate's Right Hand. Where The Houston Kid was Crowell's autobiographical confessional and Fate's Right Hand was deeply philosophical and influenced by everything from Zen to the working through of anger, The Outsider digs deep into social and political consciousness. The album rocks harder than any Crowell record in the past, as evidenced by "Don't Get Me Started," which is an anti-war anthem that takes aim at the war in Iraq. Immediately following is "The Obscenity Prayer," written from the point of view of a hypocritical right-wing pleasure seeker whose positions are not only indefensible, they are, at worst, obscene. Conversely, the Zen-like advice in "Dancin' Circles Round the Sun" is a tough country rocker with killer rockabilly guitar lines by Stewart Smith and Hammond B3 grooves by John Hobbs. It is a testament to personal responsibility and awakening that exhorts and admonishes but never preaches. There is great tenderness here, as well, such as in the acoustically driven "Ignorance Is the Enemy," with its prayer-like cadence and spoken-word vocals by Emmylou Harris and John Prine. "Glasgow Girl" is as fine a country-rock love song as has been written in recent years. The album closes with "We Can't Turn Back Now," a rousing call for acceptance, forbearance, and perseverance, whose guitars and big bassline is graced by a stellar fiddle line and a beautifully delicate tin whistle winding through it all. Crowell -- still writing hits for "Hot 100" country artists to help finance and keep creative control of his recordings -- has matured into an artist who has the of hard-won experience that displays itself as poetically wrought wisdom. His work is full of humor, light, poignancy, and killer hooks. He's now written and recorded three big topic records, all of which surpass his early work. The only thing missing here now is a record on the other big topic: Love. Perhaps that's coming. Until then, The Outsider is the Rodney Crowell recording to listen to, debate with, and be inspired by.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek