It's easy to forget that Rodney Crowell is a Texas singer-songwriter and solo artist. He lives in Nashville and doesn't trip over himself to write about bluebonnets or Huntsville. He has made nine albums but is particularly famous as a tunesmith (hits for everyone from Bob Seger to Lee Ann Womack) and producer (ex-wife Rosanne Cash). On this, his first record in four years, Crowell strips down himself and his sound, rediscovering the core of his artistry while disproving Thomas Wolfe to boot. Inspired by the rough neighborhoods and rougher home life of Crowell's Bayou City youth, The Houston Kid is a collection of vivid memories and haunting story-songs that moves gracefully between the bitter and the sweet. Traces of violence, alcohol, and death are sketched out with bare-bones musical beauty, while sunnier reminiscences come to life via a light-touched roots-rock vibe. On "I Walk the Line (Revisited)," a clever but shameless exercise in nostalgic fun, the Man in Black himself shows up. And on the spoken, grimly ironic outlaw song "Highway 17," Crowell even gets that Huntsville reference taken care of.