The conventional way of talking about The Houston Kid, Rodney Crowell’s 2001 release and the greatest achievement of his 50-year career, is autobiographically. From this way of thinking, the album pretty straightforwardly looks at Crowell’s life growing up in the poor, white working-class parts of Houston, Texas in the 1950s and 1960s, the only child of J.W. and Addie Cauzette Crowell’s tempestuous, dysfunctional union. Hearing The Houston Kid this way isn’t wrong, of course, but it is incomplete. 

For starters, if it’s Crowell’s actual life story we’re after, we’d be better off reading Chinaberry Sidewalks: A Memoir, the book project he began around the same time but didn’t publish until 2011. For another thing, The Houston Kid’s details and effects are autobiographically inspired, sure, but also rife with exaggerations, omissions and flat-out fictions. You know, art.