Charley Crockett - Music City USA (2 x LP)
Ten records in six years is some kind of prolific. The latest, a double album, suggests the artist has some songs worth paying attention to. It’s clear that he’s invested as much time in the studio, recording storytelling songs, and making storytelling videos, as he has barnstorming around the United States and Europe playing live shows. Not bad for a thirty-seven-year-old late bloomer. Charley Crockett has been a fairly remarkable artist to follow. He’s got a sound. He’s got something to say. He has a look. And there’s a gauzy veil of mystery surrounding him suggesting he knows more than he’s letting on. All those records in such a short amount of time have come with a “No Two Alike” guarantee, particularly the last three releases: the darkly prescient Welcome to Hard Times; the semi-autobiographical, hard-core country-roots The Valley; and 10 for Slim, his tribute of songs by the obscure and wholly authentic Texas honky-tonk maestro James Hand. And still, despite his penchant for pearl snaps and western hats, Charley Crockett has managed to elude being pigeon-holed. Call him neo country-western if you’d like. It’s true that few contemporaries present themselves as part of a lineage harkening back to Hank Williams and George Jones like Charley does, and even fewer can pull it off convincingly. Call him a bluesman, if you prefer. One of Charley’s first recorded songs “Trinity River,” about that “dirty river” in North Texas, is the perfect bookend to “Trinity River Blues,” the first 78 issued by Oak Cliff blues guitar giant T-Bone Walker 92 years ago. Charley knows where genuine music comes from and doesn’t hesitate to mine each vein he digs up. His voice is one-of-a-kind. His distinctive, plaintive vocals crack unapologetically with emotion, and he phrases his lines around the beat like a jazz singer, while he expounds upon personal relationships and the world beyond.