While his 1978 debut album, Ain't Livin' Long Like This, certainly caught the attention of folks in the music business, it was his second album, 1980's But What Will the Neighbors Think, that first alerted radio listeners and mainstream country fans to Rodney Crowell's gifts as a songwriter and performer, and while his self-titled 1981 follow-up wasn't the hit But What Will the Neighbors Think turned out to be, it confirmed the man was a major talent whose smart, edgy songs were a far cry from what was the norm in Nashville at the time. Collectables has reissued these two albums on a single CD, and decades after it first came out But What Will the Neighbors Think still sounds like the work of a talented maverick not afraid to take some chances; Crowell's grim assessment of America at the dawn of the Reagan era, "Here Come the 80's," would have been a gutsy way to open an album in any genre, especially country, and if "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll" takes on a less serious topic (the music business), it's no less venomous, or hits its target with less impact. "Ashes by Now" and "The One About England" showed Crowell was as sure a hand with more personal subjects, and the spare snap of Craig Leon's production allows this to walk a fine line between the rock club and the honky tonk and capture the best of both sides. Rodney Crowell was a less immediately striking album, but still has more than its share of great songs (including his original versions of "Shame on the Moon" and "'Til I Gain Control Again"), and Crowell, who also produced, assembled a superb crew of musicians, including Albert Lee, Booker T. Jones, Vince Gill, and Rosanne Cash (who was his wife at the time). These two albums represented Rodney Crowell at the first apex of his career, and after years out of print, it's good to see them available again, and in an affordable format at that.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming