Where to Next, Charley Crockett?

Charley Crockett – $10 Cowboy
Son of Davy/Thirty Tigers

There’s always someone who’s shit out of luck in Charley Crockett’s songs, but the desperation is especially palpable on $10 Cowboy, his 13th studio album in nine years. 

He populates these songs with the usual assortment of ramblers and gamblers, roustabouts and rounders, but these hard-livin’ folks have been hardened by the empty promises of American life in the 2020s. On the Bakersfield-style two-stepper “Ain’t Done Losing Yet,” a woman holding court at a roulette table tells Crockett, “I ain’t done losing yet / It takes money to forget.” Like so many of these at-loose-ends characters, she’s aching for the next paycheck or the next jackpot or the next one-night stand that will keep her going just a little longer. 

These are country music people. Yet Crockett isn’t singing about them simply because he styles himself as a country artist. Rather, he’s a country artist because that genre makes space for the people he wants to sing about. He clearly identifies with the lowdown and lost, and in these songs he counts himself among their ranks. He spins a sad road story on “Good at Losing,” chronicling run-ins with the law and countless professional setbacks, yet his voice remains stoic in the face of unending hardship while the pedal steel sobs for him. 

As he wanders lost highways and tries to fit in somewhere, Crockett identifies his and others’ troubles as symptoms of a larger national sickness. “America, how are ya?” he sings on “America,” which plays off Arlo Guthrie’s “City of New Orleans” but without that song’s rosy optimism. “America, it’s easy to get lost in this land.” Crockett doesn’t go quite as hard as you might like—Why is he apologizing? Why is he not demanding an apology?—but he makes clear that he only feels comfortable among the downtrodden and forgotten. 

That’s crucial, as it makes Crockett more than simply a student of classic country music. He does have a sharp facility for steely Bakersfield guitar licks and cinematic countrypolitan strings and clever honkytonk wordplay and so many other elements that defined country in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. But he never feels out of time on $10 Cowboy

Rather than a throwback or a neo-neo-traditionalist, he just sounds like a guy singing his sad, sad songs to the huddled masses. – GRADE: B+

Son of Davy/Thirty Tigers

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