Album Review – Charley Crockett’s – “The Man From Waco”

Like ferreting through your grandfather’s old belongings, and unearthing a rare collection of 78s representing a sumptuous cross-section of bygone American music that despite the dated verbiage and vintage styles, feels vibrant and fresh as ever as it hits your ears that have been rendered voracious from the the vacuous audio offerings of the here and now, Charley Crockett has assembled a voluminous discography in a relatively short span that continues to mesmerize in it’s scope, breath, and quality, with his latest offering The Man From Waco fitting right in line with his run of impressive output.

It is clear to see that Charley Crockett has become one of the most popular artists in independent country and roots music. You see it in the way he packs out venues coast to coast, how he’s slotted at the top of festival lineups, and in the way he continues to dominate independent Americana radio with the #1 album and the #1 song on the format now for multiple weeks. Charley Crockett’s ascension is also evident in the way the skeptics and naysayers come out of the woodwork to lambast his name whenever it’s uttered, once again underscoring how the #1 adversity to your cool factor in independent country is success.

“Charley Crockett is a put-on! He’s an act!” they chide. Well of course there’s an element of characterization going on here, as there is with all country artists, but especially for Charley Crockett. He is like a chameleon of vintage American music, shape shifting into characters, eras, and genres, with his songs like little seances where the souls of his protagonists are evoked through his stories and settings to come alive in your mind’s eye, enhanced by the high proficiency of both himself and his backing band The Blue Drifters to interpret most any genre in American roots music with ease.

Charley Crockett took a bit of a different approach to The Man From Waco compared to his previous original albums. All the songs are written or co-written by him as opposed to working in a cover or two, or three. He also recorded the album with his Blue Drifters alone as opposed to bringing in a bevy of side players. He also switched producers from Billy Horton to his manager Bruce Robison, and recorded the album at Bruce’s recording studio outside of Austin called The Bunker.

This album is also loosely conceptualized, with a theme song bookending the project, and an inspiration in the legendary country music performer James Hand roughly sketching “The Man From Waco” idea. But after listening through the album a few times, it’s tough to glean any truly cohesive narrative tying the songs and stories together. What you do find is some really compelling individual story songs, with many of the album’s tracks evoking geography in a very purposeful manner to move these stories forward.

With a well-traveled history at his dispose, Charley Crockett names of cities and places with ease, making much of this album like a travelogue, from “Tom Turkey” dropping the names of towns in New Mexico, to Crockett treading out a fan favorite in “Trinity River” originally from his 2015 album A Stolen Jewel. On this journey, Crockett smoothly transitions from Western (“Man From Waco,” “Horse Thief Mesa”) to old school country soul (“Tom Turkey,” “I’m Just a Clown”) and classic country (“Just Like Honey,” “Black Sedan”). It’s an audio album, but the experience is very visual.

Since the styles Charley Crockett works in are always pre-70s, the songwriting is plainspoken, and for some audiences, maybe a little too simple. It’s this songwriting element—along with how prolific he is—that has worn some out on the whole Charley Crockett experience. Where many songwriters ruminate for two or more years on their ten song albums, Charley Crockett is dropping 15 tracks every six months. Everyone can appreciate the hustle, but it’s an open question if more is less, especially with the elementary approach Crockett takes to music.

But Charley Crockett is not here to wow you with his complex poetry, or to croon out love sonnets with a stellar voice. He’s more interested in trying to get you lost in nostalgia, style, and story with the intent to entertain. In the album’s most popular track and lead single “I’m Just a Clown,” Crockett says, “…everybody knows, that when you purchase a ticket, you expect to get a show…”

That’s what Charley Crockett delivers for the audience: an experience apart from the mundanity of the present that a growing number of people appreciate. There are better songwriters and singers out there for sure, and maybe people who’ve mastered a more specific discipline. But there is only one Charley Crockett whose adept at them all, and leaves an audience wickedly entertained, if they allow themselves to be.

1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)

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