Charley Crockett’s 12th outing sees him go from strength to strength with possibly his best album.
Charley Crockett is nothing if not prolific – this is his 12th album since 2015 and every one contains gems from a range of genres – predominantly country (retro, Bakersfield, swing), but with blues, soul, rockabilly, funk and folk overtones and flavourings, all cohering into the genre we know as Americana. Crockett is/was a wandering troubadour and it took several years of travelling and singing with his guitar before he was able to self- release his first album, ‘A Stolen Jewel‘, in 2015. He has since released albums of blues, an album of the songs of James Hand, a couple of covers albums including songs by some of the most iconic country artists of the last 70 years, too numerous to mention. He has penned some truly excellent songs that are sprinkled throughout his oeuvre. All the songs on ‘The Man from Waco’ are written or co-written by Crockett, a distant descendant of the legendary Davy Crockett, and rank highly amongst his best. His rich, occasional baritone, voice is always an authentic instrument which takes you back to an earlier place and time.
And so to this superb new album, his second release of 2022, which is a great representation of what Crockett calls Gulf and Western Music, evoking the kind of music you might hear in old cowboy or spaghetti westerns. It started as a demo session at Bruce Robison’s home studio and ended up a full-blown album using his touring band The Blue Drifters for the first time, recording live to tape.
The first track, ‘The Man from Waco Theme’, is a short instrumental scene -setter (with tinkly saloon bar piano) and there is part two as an outro, bookending a collection of songs that span classic country (‘Cowboy Candy‘), country blues (‘I’m just a Clown’), country jazz (‘Trinity River‘), a Tex-Mex stew with mariachi horns (title track) and take you on an atmospheric musical and lyrical tour across the US southern states, where reference to iconic locations is sprinkled throughout – Rio Grande, Taos, Del Rio, Odessa, Dodge City and so on.
Nearly every track is a standout in this pot-pourri of stories from this road trip. ‘July Jackson’ is a murder ballad with a lovely lilting backing “Somebody told me That she took her husband’s life, Said she did it with a smile, And the twistin’ of a knife”. The afore-mentioned ‘Trinity River’ (an original revised from his debut album) is a funky, jazz-tinged number with a Leon Bridges vibe (not surprising, as he counts Bridges as a friend after meeting him some years back) -” Trinity River And it flow because I cry, Sure to keep me honest with everybody tellin’ lies”.
‘I’m just a clown’ has an early 70s soul vibe with great guitar and horn breaks and may be an autobiographic down and out story “Take a look at me, I’m just a clown, And on my face I wear a frown, I’ve paid the cost to hang around, So take a look at me, I’m just a clown” ‘The Man from Waco’ is the epitome of a western movie soundtrack, with great mariachi horns adding to the atmosphere.
And then the album ends on an uplifting note with ‘Name on a Bill board’, a kind of what-might-be’ fantasy – “Hey look my name is up in lights, Somehow I still don’t feel right, I’m always trying to even up the score, Hey look my name’s on a billboard”
This is a very fine album, a contender for album of the year, and adds significantly to Crockett’s growing reputation.