Veteran Texas songwriter Rodney Crowell knows better than to tell his songs what to do and listens to them instead.
His latest album, “Texas,” proved more of a place where those songs came home to rest rather than an album force-fed by a concept.
Crowell, who performs Friday at The Backyard, explained that “Texas” cuts like “Deep in the Heart of Uncertain Texas” and “Brown & Root, Brown & Root” date back to the 1970s. “I had some songs left over from the ’70s . . . that I never saw they belonged in a collection of any songs I’d made,” he said.
Then he started thinking that he and Steve Earle had talked for some 25 years about recording “Brown & Root” together and, with “Texas,” the time seemed right.
Others like “Treetop Slim & Billy Lowgrass,” “Texas Drought Part 1” and “The Border” were more recent, with origins in the 1990s and 2000s. Some had personal connections. “Caw Caw Blues” was the last song he wrote with Texas songsmith Guy Clark before Clark’s death in 2016. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, a longtime friend and also raised a fellow Houstonian, also was a long-running promised duet; Crowell wrote “56 Fury” and the duet light went on.
With songs lining up for “Texas,” others showed up and brought their performing partners to mind: “Flatland Hillbillies” and Randy Rogers and Lee Ann Womack. The “the-gang’s-all-here-drunk-on-the-lake kind of song” “Deep in the Heart of Uncertain Texas” and Ronnie Dunn. “What You Gonna Do Now” and its need for an “elegant narrator,” which Lyle Lovett fit to a T.
Not only did those artists show up for duets with Crowell, but so did others such as Ringo Starr and Vince Gill.
No concept album here, but a collection of strong-willed songs whose time was right and which served the advice of co-producer Ray Kennedy, who told the fellow Texan, “Let’s make sure this is a Rodney Crowell album.”
“The album ‘Texas’ more or less made itself,” said Crowell.
Crowell’s philosophy of letting the song speak to him has served him well, leading to a four-decade long career, two Grammy Awards, five No. 1 hits and standing as one of Nashville’s top songwriters. He’s had an A-list of country stars record his songs, musicians such as Emmylou Harris, Crystal Gayle, Bob Seger, Waylon Jennings, Oak Ridge Boys, Alan Jackson, Keith Urban, Lee Ann Womack and Tim McGraw.
Earlier this year, Crowell and Waco’s Billy Joe Shaver were honored with the Academy of Country Music’s Poet’s Award.
Crowell’s songwriting prowess has made him a go-to guy for many young musicians wanting to learn the craft and he’s quick to say there’s talent out there, including Hayes Carll and Robert Ellis.
“Any other idea other than the one the song is presenting is putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “Most of the time, the song comes to me as a feeling, the sound of a chord I strike or a tempo I’m in. I let the songs tell me, for the most part.”
Joining his backing band on Friday are Austin guitarists David Grissom and Steuart Smith. “It’s a pretty rocking bunch. We can move people around,” he said.
Crowell’s fall schedule is heavy with Texas dates, which makes sense given that his new album carries the same name. “I need to stand up and proclaim it,” he said. “I’m putting my mouth where your money is.”