"It's only rock 'n' roll," sang Rodney Crowell in the opening number of his show last night at the Cellar Door. "Only" rock 'n' roll indeed. If the music he played had been anything more than "only" rock 'n' roll, the doorman would have had to hand out pacemakers with the admission tickets.
Backed by a crackling five-piece group, the Cherry Bombs, Crowell tore through a set that exploded with every rock device that has come down the pike since 1954. Vibrato'd guitar lines, a tinkling piano, pounding four-four rhythms and straightforward two-part harmonies -- all were wrapped in a series of songs that were nothing short of three- chord masterpieces.
Although Crowell does not have the distinctive stage or vocal presence of rock giants like Presley, Lennon and Jagger, he does have an affecting style and an infectious enthusiasm for his own playing. When these qualities were augmented by the pedal steel work of Hank Devito and the simple virtuosity of guitarist Richard "Bob Cat" Bennett, the result was music that could curl the toes of the most ardent rock purist.
Crowell and his musicians didn't just cook, they sizzled. Sure, it was only rock 'n' roll. But "only" rock 'n' roll is the best kind.