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Charley Crockett - Music City USA

It’s tricky to pick one singular track to return to after the 50-minute album is complete. It’s once again an all-killer-no-filler album, Crockett keeping up his extraordinary run of matching quantity with quality, all garnished with an endearing, “aw-shucks” vibe.

Charley Crockett - Music City USA

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It’s natural to look askance at any artist who has released 10 albums in six years. After all, on paper at least, that kind of productivity leads you to suspect quantity over quality. But with singer/songwriter Charley Crockett, you’d have to reassess that kneejerk reaction - every one of his records are filled with superb songs and performances.

In early 2019, a life-threatening heart condition that worsened put Crockett on the operating table. Regardless, it didn’t take long after he was given a clean bill of health to record The Valley, his sixth album. You won’t have to look further than its opening track, ‘Borrowed Time’, to understand the impetus behind Crockett’s often joyful country and blues, along with a work ethic that puts most others - perhaps excepting Jim Lauderdale and Neil Young - to shame.

Two more releases in 2020 kept his productive streak alive, with the explicitly titled Welcome to Hard Times arguably his finest set. Now in 2021, after the wonderful 10 for Slim - a tender tribute to West Texas songwriting legend James Hand - comes yet another terrific batch of Crockett originals. No one would criticize Crockett for cranking out 10 solid tracks in his ambling fashion. But on Music City USA, he delivers 15 of them, each better than the last.

Entries with often brokenhearted lyrics such as ‘The World Just Broke My Heart’, ‘Are We Lonesome Yet’, ‘Lies and Regrets’ and ‘I Won’t Cry’ lead you to think all is somber in Crockett’s world. Thankfully his amiable voice, subtle backing musicians and impressive melodic talents keep the vibe if not entirely upbeat, at least far from depressing.

Crockett generally revels in classic, frills-free, 70s influenced countrypolitan, dubbing his approach “Gulf & Western” - a reference to the sounds he heard in Southeast Texas. It’s pure country and honky-tonk with occasional soul and R&B strains, a style that blends naturally with his sincere voice and humble personality.

What’s most enthralling is how effortlessly these tunes roll out. From the Stax-inflected horns that appear on the sweet ‘I Won’t Cry’, the gutbucket soul of ‘I Need Your Love’ and the Robert Cray-inflected blues of ‘This Foolish Game’, to the honeyed waltz of ‘Just So You Know’ (“It’s too late for tears / that well has run dry”), each is a charming, low-key gem.

Even with a full contingent of brass and backing vocals, nothing is forced or overthought. Only one song reaches four and a half minutes, while the rest are done and dusted in under three. But even while the music goes down easy, Crockett’s lyrics can slice like a jagged knife. He deals with subjects that are as unlikely bedfellows as racism that children learn from their parents (‘Skip a Rope’), a son following his father’s outlaw ways and landing himself in jail (‘Muddy Water’) and unrequited love (the self-deprecating ‘Hanger On’).

It’s tricky to pick one singular track to return to after the 50-minute album is complete. It’s once again an all-killer-no-filler album, Crockett keeping up his extraordinary run of matching quantity with quality, all garnished with an endearing, “aw-shucks” vibe.

Better get acquainted with these songs quickly though; a follow-up is likely due soon.

8.5/10.

Charley Crockett's new album 'Music City USA' is out 9/17 via Son of Davy / Thirty Tigers.

For more Charley Crockett, head here.