Crockett's eighth studio album is another jewel in the crooner's crown.
“Welcome to the hard times and feelin’ low” coos the velvety voice of Charley Crockett, moody yet inviting. It might suggest some impressive foresight that the aptly named album was written prior to 2020, but for Crockett, life has always had a brash way of presenting itself. A childhood in poverty, the loss of a sibling to addiction, run-ins with the law – all before life-saving open heart surgery at the start of 2019 – would, for most, stifle any motivation to upkeep such a fast-paced career. But 36-year-old Crockett remains steadfast in his pursuits to “make an album that would try to reclaim the conversation about country music”, and with Welcome To Hard Times, he’s succeeded.
Crockett’s second record of 2020 (and eighth since his 2015 debut), Welcome to Hard Times is raw and gothic, reminiscent of dusty desert roads and Spaghetti Western grit. Sure, the record sounds breezy, but the emotional tale-telling is actually far more haunting. Weaving country, piano-driven honky-tonk, soul and blues, Crockett paints a world of outlaws and gamblers, prisoners and gangs - all connected through the common experience of heartbreak. ‘The Man That Time Forgot’ presents an all too familiar outcast begging for change on the street corner, whilst ‘Lily My Dear’ sees a broke man behind bars reflect on a lonely life locked up. Crockett’s lyrics are poignant narrations to the many trials in the rigged game of life. “I’m so lonesome / not that you care / you’re just glad that / I’m out of your pretty hair” he wallows on ‘Wreck Me’, a mournful take on longing for a lost love. The record is rich in emotion, but in no way is it overstated – Crockett is honest yet assured; hardened by experience and grounded in maturity.
Unlike some of his edgier, high-energy blues releases, Welcome to Hard Times has a significantly more mellow mood. The record wraps you in the warm, trusting embrace of retro-country but makes sure not to hold you too close. Inspired by a vast range of regional styles, Crockett wanted to figure out how to “make something Gulf Coast, country and Western, simultaneously”, declaring “real country music – in the 50’s and 60’s especially – was always eclectic”. On ‘Fool Somebody Else’, Crockett’s sultry croon meets more rhythm and blues-focussed instrumentation, complete with harpsichord and delicate meanderings of Spanish guitar. ‘Run Horse Run’, described by Crockett as a “psychedelic Spaghetti Western”, rides along at a trot - swirling under steel guitar as it journeys under the unforgiving sun. In such rich musicality it’s easy to find yourself transported to the desolate plains of a town stuck in time.
Despite a year of turmoil, Welcome to Hard Times is another resounding success for Charley Crockett, adding another well-deserved jewel to his prolific crown. If 2020 is anything to go by, we can certainly be hoping for more great music from Crockett soon.
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