When it came time to record new album The Valley (out Sept. 20 via Thirty Tigers), Texas-based singer and songwriter Charley Crockett approached his latest trip to the studio as if was his last. That's not over-dramatic by any means, considering Crockett recorded the album just one week before he underwent life-saving open-heart surgery in January of this year.
For his potential last statement as an artist immersed in the honky-tonk honesty of Hank Williams and the blues styles he discovered as a street performer in Dallas and New Orleans, the direct descendant of Davy Crockett avoided the temptation to tell his life story through a polished Americana record.
"I kind of ended up making an autobiography of songs. That's what I was going for," Crockett says. "I'm getting more and more associated with country music, and I really felt that I needed to make a more traditional album because it seems there's so much more marketing and so much posturing around traditional country and blues and stuff like that. When it comes down to it, people end up going more in the direction of big producers and pop music. I don't have anything against that, but I thought I'd make something that's tried and true to that type of music rather than just talking about it."
Such new songs in Crockett's recorded repertoire as folk standard "9 lb. Hammer," blues meets western music amalgam "5 More Miles," Texas fiddle tune "Borrowed Time" and the trail ballad title track represent Crockett's idea for raw recordings with little owed to popular trends or digital innovations.
"I've been doing this a long time, so I've got a good idea of what I want to sound like and what I'm trying to do," Crockett adds. "If an artist doesn't know what they want, what happens when you change producers?"
Crockett's devotion to the old time way goes beyond his reliance on vintage instruments and recording equipment. For example, The Valley's album cover pays homage to Johnny Paycheck's 1967 album Jukebox Charlie and Other Songs That Make the Jukebox Play.
"When they asked me what I wanted, that's one of the album covers I sent them," Crockett says. "I love that record, I love that song and I love that era of Johnny Paycheck. When you talk about Johnny Paycheck, he's best known for that outlaw stuff he was doing in the '70s and '80s, but that's not what gives him credibility among true country fans. What gives him credibility among true country fans is that stuff he was doing in the mid-'60s. That stuff is untouchable."
Despite sticking with the less-is-more approach to songwriting and recording heard on 2018 releases Lonesome as a Shadow and Lil G.L.'s Blue Bonanza, Crockett isn't one to complain about other artists' pop tendencies. As a matter of fact, he's grateful for any second-hand exposure for the less polished songs he cut in Wildwood, Texas with co-producers Jay Moeller and Billy Horton.
"Somebody like Midland, I'm very grateful for what they're doing," he says. "People throw a lot of judgment on acts of their size and want to make all kinds of accusations about people and what their authenticity is. Whatever, you know. The fact that that music that those fellows are playing is getting out to the mainstream can't hurt a cat like me."
During the buildup to The Valley, advanced tracks gained steam on Spotify and the Americana charts. Still, Crockett remains humble over his tastes of success and hungry to grow his loyal audience without big label exposure.
"I've learned some stuff from my friends in the Turnpike Troubadours," he says. "Regardless of whether or not the industry sings your praises, I've found from touring the way that I am and putting out records for the audience that supports me that it grows on its own whether or not I get the green light from these folks or not."
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