For two decades, rootsy singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell was known as a guy who could write a hit or produce a standout CD for someone else, but always pulled up lame when it came to his own records. That was before The Houston Kid, Crowell's 2001 autobiographical masterpiece, which he released at the tender age of 49, following a six-year hiatus. To prove that Kid was no fluke, Crowell came up big two years ago with the heartfelt and introspective Fate's Right Hand, and he scores again with the just-released The Outsider, a snide and cynical look at how times have changed. But while The Outsider is full of clever, witty, and acerbic lyrics, they're balanced with a hopeful, it-isn't-too-late-for-change philosophy. By his age, prodigious talents like Crowell usually settle into the status of elder statesmen. But this guy appears to be finally feeling his oats.