Nov 02, 2022
By Mark Moody
Country songwriters Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz had a big hit on their hands when they co-wrote “When You Say Nothing At All.” First recorded by Keith Whitley in 1988, several other artists got mileage from the song as well. Notably, Alison Krauss had her first number one hit with her 1995 recording of the song. As the title hints, the song details the protagonist’s relationship with one of those strong silent types. On The Man From Waco, Charley Crockett proves the antithesis of “When You Say Nothing At All,” over 15 vocal forward tracks (albeit a few of those are instrumental interludes). Crockett has a lot to say, without ever saying much of anything.
Backed by his crack live band, the quality of the musicianship is top notch and everything here is expertly played and recorded. Produced by Austin semi-legend, Bruce Robison, Crockett’s voice is high in the mix and sonorously clear. No lyric sheet is needed to catch Crockett’s every utterance. And therein lies the problem with The Man From Waco. Every word is crystal clear, but frustratingly bland. The “man on the run” imagery of the album is made most obvious in its central title track. Crockett’s alter-ego shoots his cheating woman dead in the arms of her lover. Perhaps not his intended target, but off he goes on the run à la the Stranger in Willie Nelson’s similarly themed song cycle. But The Red Headed Stranger, The Man From Waco is not.
Songs like “Time of the Cottonwood Trees” are so short on specifics as to lay bare the clunkiness of Crockett’s songwriting skills. “Her pretty hair was brown, her eyes were too, yes they were, yes they were,” is the height of the mundane on display here. Whatever it is about the “time of the cottonwood trees,” is never revealed. While “All the Way From Atlanta,” is chock full of cities’ names on a journey east to west, but none give any flavor of place. It’s as if someone took a Rand McNally atlas and threw darts along Interstate 20. Perhaps a way to get a few hoots and hollers from the crowd as cities like Shreveport and Amarillo are rattled off. But compared to the songwriters of old that Crockett emulates, you get no sense of setting that you would from “Kern River” or even a fictionalized “El Paso.”
To the positive, there are a handful of tracks that succeed in spite of whatever Crockett may not have to say. “Odessa”’s hard bitten honky tonk stands head and shoulders above most of what’s here. It has the edge of one of Jim Lauderdale’s sharpest of gems. And “Trinity River” makes for a Van Morrison styled soulful bop. Crockett’s backing band also hit some killer riffs every now and then. The mariachi horns of the title track, though not very Waco-nian, sound fantastic. And you very well may find yourself singing something as catchy as “July Jackson,” as you go about your day.
On balance though, Crockett’s front and center vocals and cornpone delivery are too much to bear over repeated listens. The taffy pull rubberiness of Crockett’s voice on the appropriately titled “Cowboy Candy,” along with the chorus ending yelps wear thin quickly. While dully referenced terms hinting at cowboy lore (Dutchman’s gold, Pale Horse Saloon) only serve to point to the threadbare nostalgia that he trades in. Maybe it’s a matter of Crockett cranking out the albums (11 in just over seven years, though many covers are included) and quality suffering as a result. To pull from Crockett’s Western well of references, The Man From Waco generates about as much interest as a Wells Fargo checking account circa 2022. (www.charleycrockett.com)
Author rating: 5/10
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