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The Man From Waco (Son Of Davy/Thirty Tigers)

DOES IT MATTER THAT WE CAN'T always tell if Charley Crockett is taking the piss? Or indeed if there’s some point where he’s not taking the piss. Does it matter because if there’s a suggestion of irreverence, a taste of mockery, it invalidates our attraction to something? Or worse still, laughs at our attraction?

Stop laughing, this is serious Crockett – this is country music!

The problem for Crockett, or maybe really for us, is that from one perspective, his songs – generally, not just on this record – hit almost every country cliché, and hits them hard with the smack of recognition that can only come from someone completely immersed in the field he’s walking through. (And this is without needing to know it’s a loose concept album about a man with a past facing destiny, ready or not.)

Meeting a pretty woman at the Pale Horse Saloon during “the time of the cottonwood trees” while the bass and snare-rim keep him moving straight, or a piano probably from that very saloon accompanying the arrival in Dodge City of a man who last night “dreamt of a long black sedan”. A halfway between church and bar organ, with “Odessa on my mind”, keeping company with a weary voice saying “I know I’m talking bad/but I’ve lost the best I had”, or some Chet Atkins style guitar rubbing up against some southern brass for a man who is “just a clown”, with someone to show him the proof.

And of course, the “lonesome high country” and even more lonesome big sky guitar portending death, while the south of the border trumpets lament that death, or pretty July Jackson, the woman who took her husband’s life, “with a smile, and the twisting of a knife”, to the accompaniment of squeezebox and violin. And for those with a fondness for a certain Texan a couple of songs that either lyrically or musically nod with respect to L.A. County.

The problem for us, or maybe mostly for the suspicious and ready-to-be-resentful, is that from another perspective, Crockett’s songs – generally, but especially on this record – are actually good and know how to work our country music receptors. Not to mention our cross-genre pop and southern soul receptors.

So yeah, there is pedal steel and a Cash-common up-and-down rhythm in one moment, and singing that sounds like he’s just tipped the big hat back from his forehead, shucking his boots on the porch in another, but you’ll also find a kind of greasy swamp groove and slow hand electric guitar that wouldn’t be out of place in a Tony Joe White tale, a Ray Charles shuffle that comes with parping horns and sly sexiness.

Oh yes, and 58 seconds of a theme tune you could have put on a piano roll, an interlude that sits a few tracks away from a song that all but demands a man in a tight suit and handheld microphone moving his hips to a tight little Steve Cropper solo.

Crockett then is serious but he is not deadly serious, clever but not so smart arsey. (And prolific. This is his 11th album in seven years, and his second this year. None of them a bad one.) Is that taking the piss or taking up the challenge of being keen but also aware? Does it matter when you’re singing/playing/going along?


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