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Rodney Crowell takes aim at corrupt politicians, greedy corporations and empty-headed pop culture on The Outsider, the latest in a string of winning mid-career country-rock albums.
A sharp backing band meets the challenge of Rodney's outrage, lending hard-rock bite to "Don't Get Me Started" and a funky bohemian shuffle to the title track. But lyrically, Rodney's populism is often too vague to be effective. Even the poignant centerpiece, "Ignorance Is the Enemy," feels overwrought compared to a tender cover of Bob Dylan's "Shelter From the Storm." Rodney truly shines, as songwriter and singer, on a handful of low-key songs like "Glasgow Girl" and "We Can't Turn Back Now," both tinged with the romance of the British Isles. -Matthew Everett