So far in his career, Charley Crockett has recorded an envy-inducing numbers of albums — 12 in seven years, to be exact. Known for his distinctive, deep, gravely voice and songwriting chops, Crockett's insatiable drive to produce music and masterful ability to embody the characters he sings about garnered him large and loyal fan base in recent years.
The prolific singer-songwriter, a descendent of Davy Crockett, falls somewhere on the ever-fluid blues to Americana to country music spectrum, settling wherever suits best at the time. Selling himself as the authority on the experiences he sings about — hard times, life on the fringes, surviving as a perpetual outcast — Crockett built a career as a self-made working-class troubadour in an era of synthesized, flashy performers.
Self-taught and scrappy, the 38-year-old Crockett started busking as a way to support himself while hitchhiking around the country and spent time playing on the streets of New York, New Orleans and Dallas before self-releasing his first album, A Stolen Jewel in 2015. His subsequent albums are a mixture of Crockett originals and cover and themed albums. They include one entire album of songs by his musical hero, James "Slim" Hand, and a recurring series named after G.L. Crockett or "Lil G.L.," an R&B singer and promoter, which cover country classics from the likes of George Jones and Tom T. Hall.
Recently, Crockett's been collecting career accolades: he opened for Willie Nelson in New York's Central Park shortly after the release of his 12th album, The Man from Waco; received the 2021 "Americana Emerging Artist of the Year" award and the 2022 Austin Music Awards' "Best Country" and "Musician of the Year" awards; he just returned from tour of Europe; and The Man from Waco has so far logged 10 straight weeks at the top of the Americana Music Association's Albums Chart.
In his ubiquitous jeans, boots, canvas coat and cowboy hat outfits Crockett's as hard to miss as his music is to forget. Here are 11 of his best songs so far, ranked.
11. "Jamestown Ferry" (Lil G.L's Honky Tonk Jubilee, 2017)
This revered country classic was written by Bobby Borchers and Mack Vickery and first recorded as a single by Tanya Tucker, whose version appeared on her debut album Delta Dawn and reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart. Crockett's take is slower, lower but remarkably reminiscent of Tucker's.
10. "Goin' Back to Texas" (Lonesome as a Shadow, 2018)
So many songs have been written about going to Texas that it's hard to keep count and you might have said we don't really need another one. But Crockett's take on the theme is, as you might expect, a critical addition to the canon and one that fits in seamlessly.
And like any good goin' somewhere song, this one's got a driving, swinging beat and cheery horns and accordion that make it a perfect thing to pop on in the car if you're behind the wheel trying to make time getting on down the road.
9. "Lonesome as a Shadow" (Lonesome as a Shadow, 2018)
Crockett delivered another stellar ramblin' song with "Lonesome as a Shadow," which chronicles Crockett's life as a traveling artist.
8. "I Am Not Afraid" (In the Night, 2016)
This simple, bittersweet love song has all the markings of Crockett's later hits. Released on his second album In the Night, the first album to include his own song writing, this simple, bittersweet love song is unmistakably Crockett's signature blend of grit and heart. And it's a fan favorite, too, appearing on Spotify as his most streamed song to date.
7. "Borrowed Time" (The Valley, 2019)
"Borrowed Time" is already a great song, but its timing deepens its poignancy. Crockett penned the song in the lead up to major open heart surgery to correct a life-threatening congenital heart defect. Not knowing the operation's outcome, he finished recording The Valley shortly before surgery. Listening to this track, it's not hard to imagine he felt he was writing on borrowed time.
6. "Welcome to Hard Times" (Welcome to Hard Times, 2020)
Landing in July 2020 as the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the country, Crockett's "Welcome to Hard Times" struck a chord with listeners, speaking both of some of his best characters and of the moment at hand.
5. "The Man from Waco" (The Man From Waco, 2022)
As Crockett recently wrote on Instagram, the idea of the title track character off his 12th album, "The Man from Waco" came to Crockett while crossing the Brazos River on a drive home in Texas. For years, he'd referred to his musical idol and friend James Hand as "The Man from Waco," a nickname also often given to Billy Joe Shaver. Thinking about that name, Crockett and the song's co-writer Kullen Fox dreamed up this tragic country ballad about a man who accidentally murders his wife when he finds her cheating on him.
The entire record, a concept album on which each track is a story about the life of The Man from Waco, was inspired by yet another Texas musical masterpiece, Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger, which Crockett contends is the greatest concept album ever produced.
4. "Black Jack County Chain" (Welcome to Hard Times, 2020)
Willie Nelson made this dark, first-person chain gang ballad famous, but Crockett puts his own spin on the tune with his deep, guttural version. Performing it in a near-growl at the bottom of his vocal register, Crockett seems to transform briefly into the song's narrator.
Originally penned by Red Lane, Crockett's version follows other covers including ones by Irish folk Singer Christy Moore and bluegrass band The Del McCoury Band. In September 2022, actor Russel Crowe performed the song on Ireland's Late Late Show.
3. "Music City USA" (Music City USA, 2021)
This classic honky-tonkin' number deftly skewers one of the greatest producers of honky-tonkin' numbers: Nashville. "I shouldn't have come in here in the first place / 'cause folks in here don't like my kind,'" Crockett sings, nodding at his complicated feelings about Music City's streets.
2. "The Valley" (The Valley, 2019)
Crockett is at his best when writing about quirky, downtrodden characters from his life and imagination. In this largely autobiographical song, Crockett walks among his characters. He rambles through his life thus far just as he himself has, feeling his way from one step to the next "knowing not where he goes."
1. "I'm Just a Clown" (The Man From Waco, 2022)
"I'm Just a Clown" clocked 12 straight weeks at the top of the Americana singles charts, before being unseated by Margo Price's "Change of Heart." Crockett's first single off his 12th album, The Man from Waco, "I'm Just a Clown" is a masterpiece of storytelling and self-deprecation rolled into one.
Honorable Mentions: "Ramblin' Man," "I Won't Cry," "Tennessee Special," "The Man that Time Forgot," "Muddy Water," "The World Just Broke my Heart," and "Slim's Lament."
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