It’s been a long, hard cultural slide since Rodney Crowell released his 1978 full-length Ain’t Living Long Like This, but Crowell is still making literate, thoughtful quasi-country. The Texas native has written songs that have been covered by such titans as Gary Stewart and Bob Seger, and he produced Elizabeth Cook’s 2007 breakthrough full-length, Balls. Sometimes his records seem either too mild or too conflicted for me to enjoy on a casual basis, but Crowell is not a casual artist, so I’ll cut him a break. Working with writer Mary Karr on his latest project, Kin, seems to have allowed Crowell breathing room within the big tent of his and Karr’s overarching subject — such guest vocalists as Vince Gill, and yes, Norah Jones, take Karr and Crowell’s pained tales of family into new territory. Kin is Americana at its most pointed, and far from blandly reassuring.