Album Review – Charley Crockett’s “Music City USA”

While others were thinking and scheming, Charley Crockett was out there doing. While some were complaining about closed doors and walled gardens, Charley Crockett was making his way over, under, and through. When people said it couldn’t be done, Charley Crockett did it. When people said his music was no longer relevant to the modern ear, he made it so … through the sheer determination of his will, and to the tune of being one of the fastest-rising artists in independent country at the moment.

You aren’t going to upend the system and flip the script sitting at home on your couch and complaining. So Charley Crockett is out there on the road, writing songs left and right, recording them when he can—his songs and others—generally running circles around everyone else, and proving if nothing else that he’s the hardest working man in country music. Sure, country music isn’t factory work. You don’t get paid by the piece. But Charley Crockett is proving that quality and quantity don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

On Charlie Crockett’s second record this year (the other being a tribute to James Hand), the south Texas native whips up a gumbo of old school country, blues, early rock and roll, and vintage R&B influences, all assembled under the directive of a style he characterizes as “Gulf and Western,” interpreted fabulously by his incredible and versatile band, The Blue Drifters. If he skimped on anything in this one, it might be country, but few will complain since everything included here is such a close cousin to it, and so cohesive.

On your first pass through, you may give Charley Crockett credit for little more than aping old sounds as opposed to contributing anything original, however good the execution may be. But among the pithy sentiments and plainspoken language of this specific volume is quite a bit of commentary on modern life, however poetically veiled it might be, and non-specific in nature. Like so many artists, Charley Crockett views today’s world and is rendered heartbroken, and has something to say about it.

A song like “Are We Lonesome Yet” isn’t about some soured relationship, neither is “The World Just Broke My Heart.” Crockett takes the parlance of old love songs, and uses them to express his broken heartedness over things such as divisiveness, greed, and consumerism, using the word “lonesome” as a catch-all phrase for the cause, which might not be entirely off. In fact, it feels outright prophetic.

You wouldn’t want to characterize this album as being political or anything. But Charley having something to say is underscored when he concludes with a rendition of the old country classic “Skip a Rope.” He also has something to say about working hard, sticking to your principles, and steering clear of those who may steer you away from them. This is an overarching theme as well, and the subject of the opening song “Honest Fight,” as well as “Music City USA.” Charley Crockett isn’t shy about professing his self-made character and hard-fought success, and he’s eager to impart those lessons upon his audience.

Don’t worry though, Country Music USA doesn’t come across as a sermon. If anything, it’s the most consistently enjoyable selection of songs he’s compiled to date. If you followed him from the very start, and maybe through the era of lispy singing as he was trying to find his footing and voice, all of that soul-searching and foundation setting has resulted in a guy who sings and performs as effortlessly as he breathes, and is completely comfortable in his own skin, regardless of how much or little shtick it may involve.

All of the diagramming and pontificating aside, Country Music USA just kicks, and cuts. The horns fire up on “I Need Your Love” and “I Won’t Cry,” and the soul reverberates to your core. The banjo opens up on “Round This World,” and you’re immediately on board. Crockett could’ve kept a few of the final tracks off this record, which would have tightened it up a little bit, but that’s just like him to blow through the stop sign. And yes, he works in shades of cliche. But his skill is saying new and fresh things through old modes.

Charley Crockett says on one of the early songs on this album, “I can’t ask to move the mountain, so just give me the strength to climb.” Starting as a homeless street performer, and now quickly assembling one of the tightest shows on the road drawing swelling crowds, Charley Crockett is a living testament to persistence and hard work surmounting odds and overcoming obstacles. With music 70 years too late and in a genre that some insist is hostile to diverse voices, Charley Crockett isn’t just succeeding, he’s setting the pace.

It is Charley Crockett’s time, because he made it that way.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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