Mr. Crockett’s certainly on a roll these days, albums tumbling out of him like coins from a fruit machine which just hit the jackpot. What’s more is that Crockett has hit the jackpot with the majority of his releases (eleven in seven years) which is quite astonishing. There is no let up on quality control despite the conveyor belt like delivery.
While his mainly self penned albums (The Valley, Welcome To Hard Times, Music City USA) show him to be a quality writer and performer bringing country traditions fully up to date, Crockett has paid tribute to these traditions with a series of cover albums under the Lil’ G.L. Presents banner. While the third of these was a collection of James Hand songs, the first and second were themed (Honky Tonk Jubilee and Blue Bonanza) and Jukebox Charley returns to this format with Crockett picking a selection of fairly obscure country songs (despite a stellar line up of writers behind them), all given a stellar makeover.
The title song is a Johnny Paycheck cover and one can’t help wonder if Crockett chose it purely because he shares a forename with the song’s protagonist. Whatever, it’s a fine hook on which to hang the remainder of the songs on as one can imagine most of them wafting from a honky tonk jukebox with Crockett and his Blue Drifters giving most of the songs an attractive 1960s country pop delivery. Delivered in the middle of the album, Jukebox Charley is the fulcrum here although one might have expected it to be the first song as Crockett settles into his bar seat and tells the bartender of his woes. In his cups, music is a mixture of salvation and sorrow and the album follows suit. Several of the songs feature the demon drink, be it with some abandon on the upbeat Battle With The Bottle or the tearful George Jones song, Out Of Control. Affairs of the heart are, of course, in evidence with Make Way For A Better Man, a Willie Nelson song written by Cy Coben, coming across as an alpha male declaration of superiority as the singer snatches his best friend’s girl. Porter Wagoner’s spooky Heartbreak Affair (written by Kay Adams) is a fractured and fragile set up with Crockett’s distorted voice offset by an angelic chorus, the singer just one step away from being incarcerated in a rubber room. And then, there’s that final calamity, death. Tom T. Hall’s I Hope It Rains At My Funeral is a grand narrative of a hardscrabble life with Mickey Raphael like harmonica running throughout it and the final line is the killer. Six Foot Under carries on a theme that you’re only safe once you’re dead and buried and does so with a finely detailed country hop and a skip.
While all of the album is a delight, two songs stand out. Where Have All The Honest People Gone, originally sung by Roger Miller and written by Dennis Linde (who also wrote Elvis’ Burning Love), finds Crockett subtly changing the title (originally it was Where Have All The Average People Gone but Crockett reckons that most average folk just have to be honest) and delivering it in a glorious country pop arrangement which reminds one of John Hartford’s Gentle On My Mind. Even better is is Crockett’s version of Jerry Reed’s I Feel For You. Here Reed’s swampy song is given a soulful delivery with echoes of Solomon Burke, while the guitars invoke a more psychedelic folk sound not a million miles removed from the modal structures of bands like the Pentangle.
You can sum up the album in one song present here. Lonely In Person Tonight is a very obscure Tom T. Hall song about a singer whose name is up in lights but who finds himself somewhat adjacent to Jukebox Charley in that he is listening to folk enjoy his songs on the bar’s jukebox but has no one to share this with. With tons of heartbreak and a fulsome sad ache. Crockett delivers again.