The stellar new album from Austin-based country and roots artist Charley Crockett called Welcome to Hard Times receives the Ear Bliss look-see this week along with the latest effort from The Texas Gentlemen called Floor It! From busking in the streets of New Orleans, New York, Europe and Africa to making his Newport Folk Festival debut last summer, Charley Crockett has logged loads of miles and in the process honed his performing chops to near perfection. As clearly demonstrated by the new Welcome to Hard Times. Crockett is an artist whose star is on the rise. Joining the Crockett release in the Ear Bliss spotlight this week is the sophomore album from the rollicking Lone Star collective The Texas Gentlemen. A group that gained notoriety more as a backing band, Floor It! is the group’s second long player and it has more stylistic twists and turns than a roller coaster. It is that restlessness and unpredictability that makes it the extravaganza that it is. Let’s get to it.
Welcome to Hard Times
Son of Davy Records
In the liner notes to his new album called Welcome to Hard Times, roots artist Charley Crockett is quoted as saying “I wanted to make an album that would change the entire conversation about country music.” A fellow whose musical palate has spanned country to blues to R&B to swing over a mix of albums spanning original material to all covers, Crockett certainly makes a strong case for such a statement over the course of the 13 songs comprising Welcome to Hard Times. Like his past dives into the genre, from the instrumentation and arrangements to the sound and overall feel of the album it is country music in the old school style. The songs are deep and downright dark at times with an ethos entirely in keeping with country music at its purest. Says Crockett, “I think you can hear that deep, dark sadness in this record, but I think it’s the kind of darkness that will uplift others.” The title of the album comes from a favorite Western from 1968 of the same name starring Henry Fonda. The sound of Welcome to Hard Times is rooted in the 1950s and ‘60s era with a particular emphasis on a piano-driven blend of honky-tonk, soul, and blues on a country foundation. “I wanted to figure out how to make something Gulf Coast, Country, and Western, simultaneously,” says Crockett. “I think that real country music—in the 50s and 60s, especially—was always eclectic.” He goes on to say, “Rhumba beats behind a honky tonk band, incorporations of the blues, soul, Caribbean, cha-cha. Eclectic mixes were going into making those records.” Produced by Mark Neill (Black Keys, J.D. McPherson) together with Crockett and featuring an excellent supporting cast, Welcome to Hard Times is a stellar slice of real-deal country music. It is also highly recommended. Visit www.charleycrockett.com.
The Texas Gentlemen
New West Records
On their second album called Floor It!, The Texas Gentlemen take the listener on a wild, wild ride of sound. Classified as an “Americana” act, that description is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to The Texas Gentlemen and especially with the new Floor It! Sure there’s a little country, swing and touches of twang across the album’s 13 tracks, but the band offer scents of everything from Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys (the lush “Ain’t Nothin’ New”) to swirling New Orleans-styled Dixieland jazz forays (“Veal Cutlass’) to progressive funk jams (“Dark at the End of the Tunnel”) to pieces that sure sound like these guys have listened to a ton of The Band and early Little Feat. Restless is one way of describing their music-making approach and not just from song to song, but within the songs themselves seven of which are lengthy (and creative) forays topping the five-minute mark. Working with producer Matt Pence (Jason Isbell, John Moreland), for Floor It! the band headed to a variety of locales and most notably, the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Taking its cue from legendary studio bands like The Dixie Flyers and The Wrecking Crew, the origin of The Texas Gentlemen was as an all-purpose studio outfit for an array of artists (George Strait, Leon Bridges, Nikki Lane). The year 2017 saw them strike out on their own with the album TX Jelly which was a mind-blowing blast chock–full of Texa-fied swagger. A band that doesn’t appear to take itself too seriously, the adventurous Floor It! does TX Jelly one step better. It’s also a ton of fun. Visit www.newwestrecords.com.
Whereas live music inside clubs remains almost entirely on hold, outdoor options are continue to spring up. In South County, Pump House Music Works in Peace Dale is presenting live weekend shows on its front green abutting Kingstown Road. Blues will be in the air on Friday evening when Boston-based blues artist Julie Rhodes and her band perform. Opening the evening at 7 pm will be Tyler-James Kelly from The Silks. On Saturday, guitarist Bobby Keyes brings his talented trio to the Pump House green for a performance. Opening for Keyes will be the Tom White Trio followed by Providence-based jazz & roots quartet Evening Sky. Music starts at 5 pm. Check out the Pump House Facebook page for details and upcoming events. The Common Fence Music series based in Portsmouth continues its live stream events hosting a performance of low-down piano and vocal blues from the 1920s and 30s as performed by the St. Louis Steady Grinders on Sunday evening at 7 pm. The concert can be accessed by a link provided at www.commonfencemusic.org on the day of the show. The Narrows Center for the Arts based in Fall River is continues its weekly Friday live stream performance. This week finds Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame band The Schemers on the Narrows stage performing a live stream at 8 pm. There also continues to be a steady flow of other live music streaming options via platforms such as Facebook (via Facebook Live), Youtube, and Instagram. Some venues offering live streaming performances on Facebook that are worth checking out include Signature Sounds Records’ “Home Sessions,” Americana Highways, Outpost in the Burbs, and Rounder Records (via their YouTube channel with a new show posted every Saturday afternoon). Locally, Mark Cutler (of The Schemers) hits the Facebook Live stage every Wednesday evening with a show from his home at 7 pm.
Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.