By Roger Sharman
Charley recently released his 6th Studio album, ‘The Valley’ having made a recovery from two heart surgeries. The record was recorded at Fort Horton Studios, Austin, Texas. The album was actually recorded before he had the surgery, which gives us a big clue as to the albums sentiment.
An eclectic group of musicians joined the band to lend their talents to this record, including, the superb Kyle Nix (Turnpike Troubadours) on fiddle, Nathan Fleming on pedal steel, Jeff Dazey on baritone saxophone to name but a few.
Crockett dedicated the record “to anyone who ever walked that lonesome valley by themselves. Give thanks and praise. The Valley is a record full of loss, longing, and hope just like any good country record should be”.
One thing that is apparent from the off is that ‘The Valley’ has a slightly different sound to the other albums, the fiddle has replaced the accordion and pedal steel has been used a lot more. The New Orleans sound has been replaced with something more akin to the Midwest.
With ‘The Valley’ as the full title suggests is a collection of autobiographical songs, as if Charley wanted to leave this gift to the world if he didn’t come through surgery. Album opener ‘Borrowed Time’ is a perfect example of this. Charley is joined by ex-Turnpike Troubadours frontman, Evan Felker. It’s one of the highlights of the album.
Further delving into the life of Charley comes the title track of the album, ‘The Valley’. This song is really a history of Charley’s life to date, highs and lows, a true insight into the man himself.
The very essence of country music is the story of the working man, right from the very beginning up to the current day, the issues have always been the same right at the core. Charley Crockett has taken a sound from another time, a simpler time, and adopted them to the modern life, whilst maintaining that most traditional of sounds. That is the sign of a very good writer, and Charley can be regarded as pretty unique by today’s standards, although I will toss the name Joshua Hedley into the same pot.
‘The Way I’m Livin’ (Santa Rose) has a distinct Rockabilly feel, gone are the fiddles and pedal steel for this number.
Whereas ‘7 Come 11’ takes us back to a jazzier kind of Crockett song, although this seems to have a more modern feel to it than others in a similar vein in Crockett’s back catalogue.
‘If Not the Fool’ is a glorious slow-burning Blues number, that contains a wonderful distorted sax solo, anything the like of, I’ve not heard in a long long time This is certainly another highlight of the record.
‘Excuse Me’ is probably my favourite track from ‘The Valley’. It’s two minutes fifty-seven seconds of country heaven. It contains all of the elements that make up the perfect country song for me, that upright bass underpinning the outstanding fiddle and pedal steel, the story of sorrow, ‘Excuse Me’ captures it all.
The guitar and harmonica take centre stage in the next track, ‘It’s Nothing to Me’, yet the song still maintains that very traditional country sound.
‘Maybelle’ goes even deeper still down that deep south back road, combining the rockabilly elements of ‘The Way I’m Livin’ and more country sound of ‘Excuse Me’ and it works perfectly.
‘9lb Hammer’ takes the ‘The Valley’ east to the Appalachians, a stripped back to the bones Bluegrass number, Banjo and percussion only, to back Charley’s inimitable vocals. It has a distinct “last track of an album” feel to it, it’s one of the weaker moments.
Normal service is resumed on ‘River of Sorrow’, that upbeat more Crockettesque sound, slipping distinctly into a western swing vibe, you can’t help but shuffle those feet to this song, it’s infectious, it’s happy,
The last two songs, ‘Change Yo’ Mind’ and ‘Motel Time Again’ are both absolute gems, in my opinion, the pedal steel returns, and that is a welcome addition to any song as far as I’m concerned. They both have a real Merle Haggard feel to them, which is the highest praise that can be given to a country song.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Charley has gone up a level with this album. The fun elements are still there, and always will be because that the type of character that Charley is, he has a sense of humour that is as smart as the suits that he wears. ‘The Valley’ is certainly a more sombre offering and shows a maturity in the writing that will mean these songs stand the test of time. Charley has opened himself up to the world here, and we should all be very thankful that he’s still here to tell these tales.