PopMatters' The 15 Best Americana Albums of 2023 - Rated 9/15!
Take a look at the cover of Rodney Crowell's brilliant 2023 album, The Chicago Sessions, and you might recognize a familiar callback to the legendary songwriter's 1978 debut. "In a lot of ways, this album feels like that very first record to me," Crowell reflects. "When my daughter Chelsea suggested we lay the artwork out similarly, the connection made perfect sense. There's something very simple, very innocent about it. It's just me and the band in a room together, loose and live and having fun." Produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, The Chicago Sessions is indeed a throwback to Crowell's early days of making records, but it's no nostalgia trip. The songs here are vital and timely, touching on everything from love and mortality to race and religion, and the performances are nothing short of intoxicating, fueled by raw guitars, honky-tonk piano, and tight, punchy drums. Tweedy wields a light touch as a producer, his influence subtle yet unmistakable, and engineer Tom Schick's mixes are dynamic and alive, alternately lush and spacious in all the right places with a spotlight fixed firmly on Crowell's warm, weathered vocals throughout. Put it all together and you've got a masterful, cross-generational collaboration that manages to feel both fresh and familiar all at once, an incisive, engaging collection that balances careful craftsmanship with joyful liberation at every turn.
With Tweedy as producer working on his own turf, some might wonder if he would try to impose his twangy but skewed indie rock sensibility on Crowell and his songs, and while that might have been an interesting mix, that was not at all the case. Instead, Tweedy - smart enough to know Crowell is a great songwriter who has been making fine records for decades - let the artist follow his lead, and the result is a gem, one of Crowell's most purely enjoyable albums, capturing him in excellent form as a writer and a performer. The Chicago Sessions sounds loose without being the least bit sloppy; Crowell and his musicians deliver performances that are relaxed but confident, documenting the intimacy of a band connecting in the moment, and it's effective and powerfully satisfying. Tom Schick's engineering is excellent, catching the organic sound of a band playing together in a good-sounding room, and you can feel the way the guitars and drums fill the space around them....a splendid example of Rodney Crowell doing what he does best, with some help from a guy who knows how to get him to play to his strengths; it's Crowell at his smart and soulful best.
Crowell sounds comfortable, confident, and at ease throughout The Chicago Sessions while gifting us some of his best material in years.
- Vinyl LP
- Produced by Jeff Tweedy
- Gatefold Sleeve
- Made in USA
- Somebody Loves You
- Loving You Is The Only Way To Fly
- You're Supposed To Be Feeling Good
- No Place To Fall
- Oh Miss Claudia
- Everything At Once
- Ever The Dark
- Making Lovers Out Of Friends
- Ready To Move On