As a snapshot of an artist at a critical stage in their career, Live from the Ryman fittingly captures Crockett reaching the mountaintop and savoring the view.
Easily the most storied concert hall in the history of country music (and one of the world’s most legendary venues for any genre), Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium exudes a sense of history and elegance even if you’ve never been there.
Naturally, when Charley Crockett played the Ryman for the first time in November of ‘22, it marked a major career milestone for the South Texas singer/songwriter. Touring at the time behind his breakout album The Man from Waco, Crockett sold the place out on a Monday night.
Crockett’s entire performance from that evening is now commemorated with both an album and a concert film, each titled Live from the Ryman Auditorium. Live albums, of course, have to convey a unique feeling of ambience in order to stand out on their own.
This is especially the case for live discs recorded in the hallowed space known as country music’s “Mother Church". Not to mention that the performances themselves have to resonate with a lifelike quality that distinguishes them from the studio versions of the same songs.
Live from the Ryman delivers on both counts. Crockett and his band the Blue Drifters have become so proficient onstage that one might expect their controlled precision to undermine the human element of their act. Thankfully, that’s not the case here.
Right off the bat, with set opener ‘Cowboy Candy’, Crockett and company showcase their willingness to augment the songs with fuller arrangements. This version of ‘Cowboy Candy’ courses with lifeblood thanks to a new, highly energizing drum part from drummer Mario Valdez.
Mix engineer Ben Fowler positions the band so that the music feels somewhat far away—an aesthetic choice that gives this album a distinct sonic character, even if it might take some listeners time to get used to. In one of the album’s other most appealing features, Fowler spotlights both pedal steel player Nathan Fleming and pianist Kullen Fox (the latter also supplies organ, trumpet, accordion and backing vocals). Still, it’s the stage raps captured here that really encapulsate the charm of Crockett's live show.
For example, Crockett introduces a medley of James Hand covers (‘Midnight Run’ and ‘A Lesson in Depression'), by telling the audience that “[Hand] is the reason I’m here. He was born just a couple exits down the highway from Willie Nelson. We called him the real deal. When I was comin’ off the street, he really showed me the way. I’ll tell ya somethin’; he used to always say, ‘Charley Crockett, anybody can pray for rain—you’d best get busy diggin’ a well, boy’”.
In a heartfelt statement posted on his website, Crockett recalled how he waited to go onstage that night stricken with stage fright, as an old photo of George Jones looked upon him. You wouldn’t know it from Crockett’s performance, his voice carrying through the night with the booming confidence that’s become one of his trademarks. Unsurprisingly, the setlist here hews heavily towards The Man from Waco, which takes up six of the first seven songs. But Crockett, who has recorded numerous covers albums, also devotes a good portion of the program to his heroes.
Playing the Ryman for the first time was clearly an emotional moment for Crockett, who remembers aloud from the stage that it wasn’t so long ago that he was busking in the alleyway just outside. Listening to this album, it’s clear that the crowd was on his side that night.
As a snapshot of an artist at a critical stage in their career, Live from the Ryman fittingly captures Charley Crockett reaching the mountaintop and savoring the view.
Charley Crockett’s 2023 Live from The Ryman Auditorium album and concert film are out on Friday September 29 via Son of Davy / Thirty Tigers.
For more on Charley Crockett, see below: