Album Review – Charley Crockett’s “Jukebox Charley”

Before Charley Crockett released his debut original album on Thirty Tigers, before he was selling out clubs coast to coast, headlining festivals, topping Americana radio charts, appearing on CBS This Morning and other nationally-televised programs, or being named the Saving Country Music Artist of the Year, he released an album in 2017 called Charley Crockett Presents: Lil G.L.’s Honky Tonk Jubilee where he covered 16 classic country tunes. In fact, it was debuted right here on Saving Country Music.

Very few knew of Charley Crockett at the time, and the album was his way of paying dues and paying tribute to all the past greats that influenced his (hopefully) upcoming country music career. It was laying down the foundation for things to come. The next year, he added to that foundation with Lil G.L.’s Blue Bonanza. Last year, Crockett did a solid to one of the most overlooked legends in country music by recording Lil’ G. L. Presents: 10 For Slim, Charley Crockett Sings James Hand.

Now here five years after that first Lil’ G.L. installment, and after Charley Crockett has gone from an obscure street performer to one of the fastest-rising names in independent country, he’s still taking time to pay tribute to the past greats, this time with his fourth installment in the Lil G.L. Presents catalog called Jukebox Charley.

There was a time in country music when your worth was measured in the amount of dues you paid, and also in how many of the old classic songs you knew. With Jukebox Charley, Crockett proves his body of knowledge is quite deep, as is his pool of talent to interpret these songs with his band The Blue Drifters.

For certain, Charley Crockett doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody at this point in his career. But despite his recent and continued success, Crockett remains the hardest-working, and hungriest performer out there, taking nothing for granted, and not letting his foot off the pedal either live or in the studio, including still taking time to tribute past greats. In fact, a strong case can be made that some, or maybe many fans in the country and Americana realm are suffering from a little Charley Crockett fatigue after releasing records at a two-per-year clip, and often with 14 or more tracks.

But that takes nothing away from the effort, and the quality of the songs found on Jukebox Charley, enhanced by the obscurity of the selections, and the customized production effort brought to each individual song. It might be one thing if Crockett was releasing 14 songs with just his road band playing live in front of a hot studio mic with little thought or arrangement. But along with producer Billy Horton, Charley Crockett brings a unique atmosphere to each selection, considering era, region, and genre in how they will interpret each song, bearing a similar care to what he brings to his original material.

Whether it’s the watery effect on the vocals and the backup chorus brought to bear on Porter Wagoner’s “Heartbreak Affair” to really give you those 60’s chills, or the piano and snare brushes for Wayne Kemp’s “Same Old Situation” to get that smoky lounge feel, or switching up the words just a bit on Roger Miller’s “Where Have All The Honest (Average) People Gone” to make it more pertinent to today’s listeners, each song was thought out and textured to make it distinguishable and memorable.

Some of Jukebox Charley‘s selections are less obscure than others, like the title track, which might be recognized by Johnny Paycheck fans straight off the bat, or the traditional cowboy song “Diamond Joe,” which was recently covered by Colter Wall. But even devoted Tom T. Hall fans were left perplexed by the listing of the song “Lonely In Person” that Crockett scared up. And by edifying the track with a passionate rendition, you have to tip your hat to Charley for officially entering such a cool song into the country music consciousness.

Covering old country songs isn’t just an exercise in tribute. This is often how a new generation discovers these timeless tracks, as well as the original performers who sang them, and composers who wrote them. Even those that cast of Crockett as a lispy hipster can hopefully see the value in resuscitating, or in some cases, exhuming these cool country songs, and getting people under the age of 60 to pay attention to them. Crockett has that undeniable “cool” factor that has the audience intently listening to old country and swamp blues songs otherwise dismissed in popular culture.

Sure, the prolific nature of Charley Crockett’s output can get a little Groundhog Day, especially with how crowded release windows are these days in general. But who wants to try and tell Charley Crockett to slow down? And he’s yet to turn in a subpar effort. Jukebox Charley is pretty perfect for putting on in the background, setting a mood, and losing yourself in the warmness of bygone eras when the music came with more purpose and feeling.

A master interpreter with a band that can follow him wherever he chooses to go, Jukebox Charley is an invaluable revivalist patently important to keeping the most potent of roots music expressions alive in the modern context.

1 3/4 Guns Up (7.5/10)

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(See song credits below)

TRACK LIST:

1. Make Way For a Better Man
(Performer: Willie Nelson / Writer: Cy Coben)
2. I Feel For You
(Performer: Jerry Reed / Writer: Jerry Reed)
3. Lonely In Person
(Writer: Tom T. Hall)
4. Diamond Joe
(Performer: Various / Writer: Cowboy Traditional)
5. Where Have All The Honest People Gone
(Performer: Roger Miller / Writer: Dennis Linde)
6. Home Motel
(Performer: Willie Nelson / Writer: Willie Nelson)
7. Jukebox Charley
(Performer: Johnny Paycheck / Writers: Johnny Paycheck, Aubrey Mayhew)
8. I Hope It Rains At My Funeral
(Performer: Tom T. Hall / Writer: Tom T. Hall)
9. Heartbreak Affair
(Performer: Porter Wagoner / Writer: Kay Adams)
10. Battle With The Bottle
(Writers: Joe Avants Jr., John Koonse)
11. Out Of Control
(Performer: George Jones / Writers: George Jones, Derrell Edwards, Herby Treece)
12. Six Foot Under
(Performer: Bob Fryfogle, Others / Writers: Clint Lewis, James Hutchins)
13. Same Old Situation
(Writers: Wayne Kemp, Bill McDonald)
14. Between My House And Town
(Performer: George Jones / Writer: Sanger D. “Whitey” Shafer)

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