A pundit once said that you have to really live life before you can share it with others. If that’s the case, then Charley Crockett clearly has plenty he can convey. On his upcoming album, tellingly titled Welcome to Hard Times, Crockett spares no effort in passing on the unflinching truths about the difficult realities that confront those who, more than ever, are struggling to simply survive. He expresses the difficulties spawned by a society that often turns its back on the marginalized minority that finds itself in an abyss, one that places an irreversible divide between poverty and prosperity.
Produced by Mark Neil and with songwriting input from Dan Auerbach and Pat McLaughlin, Welcome to Hard Times shares those sentiments with a heady mix of rough-hewn Americana, classic country, sublime psychedelia, and rugged R&B. Though inspired by vintage precepts, the music that results remains both relevant and resilient.
“This record is for the folks who feel like everything is fixed,” Crockett says of the new album, “If you think you’re playing a rigged game, you’re right. If it seems like all the cards are marked in advance, they are. But you still gotta roll the dice, even when you know they’re loaded.”
Of course, Crockett knows what he speaks. Growing up in poverty, he experienced homelessness as a young man, and even after he made his way to New York from New Orleans, he was forced to survive by busking on the city’s subway stops. His sister fought a losing struggle against addiction, and Crockett himself was twice convicted of crimes although he was wrongly implicated in his brother’s criminal conduct. Last year he was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a congenital heart condition which, combined with an aortic valve disease, nearly cost him his life. Happily, he survived, and given new inspiration, he set about recording his daring new album.
“I’ve gotten more than my fair share of raw deals in my 36 years,” Crockett contends. “But I don’t let hard luck own me. I’ve been fortunate enough to see things that a person from my background is never meant to see, and that’s worth something…I wouldn’t take anything back that’s happened to me. I’m not the best and I damn sure ain’t the first. But I’m different and in music, that’s everything.”
Nowhere is that more evident than in the imagery shared in the video that accompanies the album’s title track. The first in a series of videos intended to illustrate the settings and scenarios evoked by the album’s emotive soundscapes, it finds Crockett portraying a character who wanders through a shifting array of stark and solitary wilderness environs
“The American West is a land I’ve drifted through for most of my life,” Crockett insists. “In these troubled times, I find comfort and safety in isolation. I think I always have.”
Considering the perils of the pandemic and the need to sequester simply to stay safe, there may be lessons to be learned for the rest as well.