Perhaps the "music bug" had once again been nipping at Rodney Crowell (guitar/vocals), since less than a year after his mid-'90s sabbatical he resurfaced as a member of the Cicadas alongside Steuart Smith (guitar/producer), Michael Rhodes (bass), and Vince Santoro (drums/vocals) -- all of whom had been in Crowell's backup band. While the eponymously titled 1996 package was a one-off project, the participants certainly didn't treat it like an afterthought. The performances are truly inspired, as the Cicadas dig into an interesting array of Crowell compositions and a few cool covers to boot. This quartet fuses a fresh countrypolitan sound structured in a pop music sensibility. Crowell collaborated with a number of up-and-coming talents, such as fellow singer/songwriter Ben Vaughn on the tongue-in-cheek love song "When Losers Rule the World" -- which would also end up on Vaughn's own Glasgow Time some six years later in 2002. The laid-back and reflective "Through the Past" has the sonic stamp of Tom Petty sideman Stan Lynch, and bears an almost hypnotic chord change over a firm but yielding rhythm. The infectiously optimistic "Nothing" is a stone gem, with Jim Lauderdale's trademark bounce and vocal harmonies that immediately conjure memories of the Everly Brothers or the Beatles' "What Goes On." More reminiscent of Crowell's sides with Emmylou Harris and then-wife Rosanne Cash are the ballads "We Want Everything" and the sanguinely revealing "Still Learning How to Fly." Two of the best tracks on The Cicadas are the respective cover versions of "Tobacco Road" and the rare mid-'80s meeting of the minds between U2's Bono and T-Bone Burnett that produced the storybook "Wish You Were Her." Ironically, the former sounds as if it has been sifted through the Blues Magoos and Nashville Teens, rather than directly from John D. Loudermilk's original. After spending several years as a hard to find cutout, in 2007 the Collectors' Choice Music subsidiary Nobel Rot reissued The Cicadas with new liner notes by Scott Schinder.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer