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Album Review – Charley Crockett’s “$10 Cowboy”



It definitely took longer than some. He’s certainly no overnight sensation, that is for sure. It’s the result of being one of the hardest working men in country music over the last many years that Charley Crockett has officially arrived. He’s no side stage act or opener anymore. Charley Crockett a feature artist and a franchise, and is personally responsible for putting classic country served with bursts of old-school blues, soul, and an incalculable cool factor at the forefront of American music.

Crockett may have made it to the top, but his new album $10 Cowboy isn’t about where he’s at. It’s about how he got here, the struggles he incurred, the setbacks he overcame, the perseverance he had to exhibit, and the characters and places he experienced along the way. It’s a road map, a travelogue, a cautionary tale, and an inspiring story of ultimate success told via three chords, and a diverse array of sounds that boldly pull from the entirety of the American roots music legacy.

Sometimes the problem with success is it satisfies your hunger. So as to not fall prey to this fate, Crockett took himself back to the streets for this album where he started as a busker singing his heart out for a ragged dollar. He put himself back in those moments of self-doubt and destitution, of strings of bad luck, of down stares from strangers, and of fleeting moments of grace. The harder it was, the more rejection and ridicule he faced, the more Crockett used it all fuel and provocation to prove everyone wrong, including the naysayer inside himself.

$10 Cowboy is mostly a country and Western album, but with interludes that could be taken from the soundtrack of a ’70s Blaxploitation flick. Crockett has always dabbled in soul, but a song like “America” puts you in the same mood as Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th St.,” or the theme from the Rocky movie. Ditto for “Gettin’ Tired Again,” and in some respects, “Solitary Road,” which makes you want to put on a pair of sweats and run seven miles while shadow boxing.

It wasn’t just in South Texas where Crockett cut his teeth. As he sings about, it was also in New York City, in L.A., and New Orleans where he found rejection, and the sounds of those streets make it onto this album. But don’t worry. The predominant sound is still country, as it’s always been with Charley. After all, there no better sound to accompany sad sack moments like the ones Crockett recounts in songs like “Hard Luck & Circumstances,” “Good At Losing,” and “Ain’t Done Losing Yet.”


Not all of $10 Cowboy is directly autobiographical though, or at least you hope it isn’t. The Western tune “Spade” about being the only survivor of a stick up and going on the run is certainly an adventure. But when Charley sings about the east Texas town of Tyler in “City of Roses,” you can tell this comes directly from the his story from the rich illustration he paints.

As is often the case with Charley Crockett albums, the writing is always solid, but almost never exceptional, favoring more to touch on the essence of themes as opposed to deep poetic explorations, or delving into involved or novel concepts. Take the song “America” for example. You almost want to make it into some sort of political commentary, but Crockett never exactly takes it there. He’s more about evoking a mood through the collaboration of words and music in songs that are originally-composed, yet instantly familiar in a way the wells emotion and nostalgia from the very first listen.

Crockett’s aided in this pursuit by $10 Cowboy co-producer and long-time collaborator Billy Horton, who also co-writes five on the album’s 11 original songs with Crockett. The album concludes with “Midnight Cowboy” (Willie Edwards), which aids in the album’s cinematic and faraway feel.

Along with calling upon the personnel of Crockett’s Blue Drifters backing band—including keyboard and trumpet player Kullen Fox—Billy and Charley also pulled from Austin’s rich talent pool to compose $10 Cowboy at the legendary Arlyn Studios, just around the corner from The legendary Continental Club. This includes guitarist Dave Biller, piano player T Jarrod Bonta, and Rich Brotherton of Robert Earl Keen fame.

It’s through trying to keep his humility, hunger, and perspective, not allowing the measure of himself to get ahead of his true worth, and trying to keep the same chip on his shoulder that Crockett’s had from the beginning that brings $10 Cowboy to life in a vibrant and engaging manner. $10 is a rather fleeting denomination in an inflationary economy. But as Crockett says in the title track, when you’re standing out on the street, it sure feels like a lot of money to get tipped by a passing stranger.

Never lose your hunger, or your sense of gratefulness, and the world will often turn your way, eventually. That is the story of Charley Crockett and $10 Cowboy.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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