Rodney Crowell Credit: Jason Kempin

Few songwriters are able to revisit their past with as much poetic effectiveness as Rodney Crowell, a roots master who regularly reflects on his early days—whether growing up in Texas or arriving in Nashville as a songwriting greenhorn. He does it again on the terrific new album Close Ties (New West), his first new effort in three years and one that stands as tall as anything he’s done. Crowell’s rarely sounded more pensive. The sorrowful “Life Without Susanna” is a tender elegy to the late songwriter Susanna Clark (whom he credits as a critical sounding board for his music along with her husband, Guy Clark, and Townes Van Zandt), while on “Reckless” he conducts an inner monologue about his self-destructive urges, which lead him to ignore his moral compass. On a similar note, “It Ain’t Over Yet,” his first recording with his ex-wife Rosanne Cash since 1990, almost seems like an apology. The production by Jordan Lehning and Kim Buie makes room for strains of honky-tonk, country rock, and rootsy pop—all lean, meticulously arranged, and warm—but it’s Crowell’s soulful vulnerability that ultimately makes it all come together.   v