There’s no country music quite like Texas country, and there’s no Texas country musician quite like Charley Crockett. The multi-faceted Lone Star native spent years in different states and styles before bringing it all home and putting his self-described Gulf & Western imprint on our state’s honkytonk legacy, with his upcoming album Music City USA. Since Texas country is the music on which Austin City Limits cut its teeth, we were only too happy to host his debut ACL taping, which we live streamed around the world.
Crockett and his band the Blue Drifters opened the show with a mariachi trumpet, signaling the Latin-flavored chickaboom of “Run Horse Run,” which segued directly into the rhythmically similar “5 More Miles.” “It’s the pleasure of my life to be here at Austin City Limits tonight,” the San Benito native proclaimed. He kicked into the honkytonk shuffler “Goin’ Back to Texas,” moving his feet as much as the dancers out front. “Borrowed Time” followed in a similar vein, with keyboardist/trumpeter Kullen Fox adding a rippling accordion solo. Fox kept the squeezebox strapped on for “Lead Me On,” a soulful ballad written by Austin blues legend Miss Lavelle White. Crockett stuck with covers, introducing a trio of superb C&W songs by late Texas country singer James Hand: “Midnight Run,” “Lesson in Depression” and “In the Corner,” all recorded on Crockett’s Hand tribute LP 10 For Slim: Charley Crockett Sings James Hand. Like his hero, Crockett sings like he’s lived every word.
Having paid his respects to a seminal influence, the singer dipped back into his own material for the two-steppin’ “Welcome to Hard Times.” “We’d like to try a brand new one out on ya,” Crockett noted before the lovelorn waltz “I Need Your Love,” from his upcoming album Music City USA. Having left the audience’s hearts sufficiently bent, the singer sang a (slightly) more reassuring song with “Don’t Cry” – “Because I love you, I’ll always be comin’ back home.” He then went in an even more traditionalist direction, summing up the theme of country music in general with the Texan two-stepper “Lies and Regret.” Crockett nodded to his roots with “The Valley,” a song paying tribute to the Rio Grande Valley in which he was born; “I’m very proud of that fact, but it’s the kind of place that if you want to make something of yourself, you have to wander pretty far afield.” The Drifters added a Latin sway to the rhythm of “Trinity River,” accented once again by Fox’s trumpet work. The band then switched genres with “This Foolish Game,” a slow burning Texas blues number that gave lead guitarist Alexis Sanchez a chance to shine.
Appropriately enough, Crockett followed the blues with R&B, specifically the soul ballad “Ain’t Gotta Worry” and the organ-frosted hipsway “In the Night.” “Oooh, doggie,” Crockett declared in response to the dancers’ efforts. “Wildcat – rowrr!” He returned to country for “Music City USA,” nodding to the clash of cultures that gave rise to American music, as well as the honkytonker “Jamestown Ferry,” originally a hit for Tanya Tucker. Crockett and the Drifters closed the set with the freight-train rhythm and tuneful refrain of “Paint It Blue.” The musicians quit the stage, but the audience chanted “Charley! Charley!” until the man of the hour returned alone with his guitar. “I never thought I’d get here,” admitted Crockett, before talking about his early days as a street singer and potential record deals with labels who didn’t understand him (or did and just didn’t want him to be himself). He then closed the show with “Are We Lonesome Yet,” the kind of tune that would have earned him a fat songwriting contract in the days of Harlan Howard and Hank Cochran. That was the perfect way to end Crockett’s sterling debut, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.