In his song "Nashville 1972," Rodney Crowell looks back on his early days in the music business, meeting heroes and legends such as Willie Nelson, Tom T. Hall, and Harland Howard, and occasionally making a fool of himself, as men in their early twenties are likely to do. That song closes out Crowell's 2017 album Close Ties, and it's a fitting footnote to an album by an artist who, in his own way, is as much of a hero as any of the artists he cites in the song 45 years later. Crowell certainly sounds like a seasoned veteran on these ten songs -- Close Ties is full of stories of a life lived richly, if often recklessly, and though Crowell is still full of energy and has a clear eye, he sings with the voice of experience and knows which choices were good and which were unfortunate. Dominated by acoustic arrangements, Close Ties is emotionally intimate and frequently confessional, as Crowell sings about broken hearts ("Life Without Susanna," "Reckless," "Forgive Me Annabelle") and lives out of balance ("I Don't Care Anymore," "Storm Warning") with honesty and a welcome lack of self-pity. Close Ties is a set of stories of a roaring boy, sung from the perspective of the older and wiser man he would become, and Crowell's voice is in fine shape, giving his stories flesh and form with the talent you'd expect from one of the best singers and songwriters of his generation. Producers Jordan Lehning and Kim Buie give these sessions a feel that's open but clearly focused, and there's a sharp sense of purpose to this material that's mature but full of life. Close Ties shows that it's possible to be an experienced professional and still make music that's emotionally urgent and immediate; it's also a reminder that Rodney Crowell was and remains a talent to be reckoned with, and this album shows he's a long, long way from used up.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming