Charley Crockett’s ‘The Man from Waco’

When I first saw Charley Crockett swagger across the stage, at the rescheduled 2021 MerleFest, I knew I was a goner. As the audience trickled into his late Sunday morning set, Crockett took the stage like it was Saturday night. That attitude—and energy—struck like a lightning bolt. Women turned giddy, men began hollering, and I tried hard not to swoon (mostly because I was on assignment). There’s nothing so attractive as a person in their element, and Crockett was exactly that.

I’d heard and enjoyed Crockett’s music before that auspicious Sunday, but seeing him perform electrified my interest. I quickly fell down the rabbit hole that is his ever-expanding catalog. Where most artists follow an album release cycle that entails writing, recording, releasing, and touring a new album every 18 months (or 2-3 years in the case of bigger names), Crockett prefers the older tradition. In the vein of Johnny Cash and earlier country stars, he releases an album a year—sometimes more.

With his latest album, 2022’s The Man from Waco, Crockett has amassed a staggering 11 albums in seven years. And while many of his more recent LPs flirt with a traditional country sound, Crockett has enjoyed borrowing liberally from the American vernacular, incorporating New Orleans jazz, blues, and even Mariachi flourishes, to name just a few.

While I’ve come to appreciate many of his albums, including his 2015 debut A Stolen Jewel, I haven’t been able to stop listening to The Man from Waco. Give me an album dripping in pedal steel, sung by a savory baritone, and I’m sunk. The opening theme, which clocks in at a mere 58 seconds, begins with honky-tonk piano before fading into sweeping pedal steel. The instrumental feels like a shimmer on the horizon—the kind of heat waves you see dappling the road when you’re setting out on one helluva journey.

What follows is a mix of jaunty western songs (“Cowboy Candy,” “Horse Thief Mesa”), country-folk (“July Jackson”), and honky-tonk numbers (“Just Like Honey”). Crockett explores a wide range of traditional styles. The muted trumpet and jazzy drums that begin the bar-room ditty “Trinity River” shouldn’t fit alongside those types, but it does somehow. It all works—even though it kind of shouldn’t.

Amidst that variety is the standout title track. Situated around the album’s halfway mark, it practically strolls. Crockett’s vocals hold steady while a thick electric guitar run through an effects pedal (or an electric piano—I cannot tell) simmers in the background. It’s such a metered song until it’s not. The phrasing reaches a natural end, but rather than place a period there, Crocket chooses to send it off in a new direction. “The Man from Waco” crests with a blare of Mariachi trumpets that makes my heart swell.

I love when music unfurls me in that way.