Charley Crockett Speaks Up For the Little Guy on $10 Cowboy

The fast-rising Texas country singer-songwriter adds another album to his remarkably consistent catalog.

Music Reviews Charley Crockett
Charley Crockett Speaks Up For the Little Guy on $10 Cowboy

Over the past decade, few musicians have been as dialed in as Charley Crockett. On all fronts, the Texas country singer-songwriter delivers with uncommon consistency: He always looks dapper, in a cool thrift-store outlaw sort of way. He has released one or two albums per year since 2015, all through his own independent label, Son of Davy. His songs never stray too far from their comfort zone, instead finding new ways to fuse country, folk, blues and soul over and over again. And his concerts are masterclasses of efficient entertainment, with rarely a note, a vintage shirt collar or a toothy smile out of place.

Crockett is a machine, in other words, and that machine has a name: Jukebox Charley—dependable, irresistible and seemingly stocked with an endless supply of terrific tunes. His new full-length, $10 Cowboy, adds a dozen more to his arsenal, this time inspired and informed by his extensive travels, first as an itinerant young man busking on street corners and more recently as a busy touring act. “This material is written at truck stops, it’s written at casinos, it’s written in the alleys behind the venues, it’s written in my truck parked up on South Congress in Austin,” he has said. “A ramblin’ man like me, a genuine transient, is in a pretty damn good position to have something to say about America.”

On $10 Cowboy, Crockett’s stories often revolve around hard-living folks, people just scraping by and those on the wrong end of the war on the American dream. In “Hard Luck & Circumstances” – an album highlight – he laments their plight against a gospel-tinged chorus and classic honky-tonk: “For folks like me / There ain’t no justice / Only the road and it’s long / You might find it funny / My line of thinking / But that don’t make me wrong / It’s hard luck and circumstances / That brought me here / And if they hang around much longer / I might just disappear.”

Crockett recorded $10 Cowboy live to tape at Arlyn Studios in Austin with a small army of musicians, including a saxophonist, keyboard players, backing vocalists and a string section. As a result, the album sounds remarkably warm and alive and real; it feels like you can step on the bass lines, put the twinkling piano notes in your pocket or reach out and touch the pedal steel guitar parts. A stretch of tracks in the middle of the record—“Good At Losing” and “Gettin’ Tired Again” and “Diamond in the Rough”—feature beautifully lush string arrangements and act as a sort of baroque-country mini-set within the larger work.

Elsewhere, Crockett bounces around from sound to sound, mixing country with slinky blues (the title track), searing rock ‘n’ roll (“Solitary Road”), moody pop (“Lead the Way”) and funky horns (“America”). The latter returns to the album’s main theme, expressing both love for and fear of the country he has criss-crossed so many times in his career. “America / You promised / And I’ve been waiting patiently,” he sings, as the song soulfully seethes around him. “America / It’s easy / To get lost in this land.” It is heartening to hear Crockett use $10 Cowboy—and his fast-growing platform—to speak up for the little guy; here’s hoping he will continue to do so. His track record tells us he will, and he will do so very effectively.

Watch Charley Crockett’s Paste Studio Session in Austin, Texas in 2021 below.

Ben Salmon is a committed night owl with an undying devotion to discovering new music. He lives in the great state of Oregon, where he hosts a killer radio show and obsesses about Kentucky basketball from afar. Ben has been writing about music for more than two decades, sometimes for websites you’ve heard of but more often for alt-weekly papers in cities across the country. Follow him on Twitter at @bcsalmon.

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