With $10 Cowboy, Charley Crockett didn’t set out to make a themed record. He had released a concept album in 2022, the critically acclaimed Man From Waco, propelling Crockett to new heights and establishing him as one of the leaders of a sparkling revival of traditional country and folk music.
For the follow up album, Crockett wrote freely, over a two-month period, as he wound his way across the United States on the back of a tour bus. The resulting songs—raw, personal, vivid portraits of a country in transition—ended up being connected after all.
“This material is written at truck stops, it’s written at casinos, it’s written in the alleys behind the venues, it’s written in my truck parked up on South Congress in Austin,” explains Crockett. “A ramblin’ man like me, a genuine transient, is in a pretty damn good position to have something to say about America.”
As the album unfolds, you begin to understand that a $10 Cowboy is anyone who has hustled to get by, who didn’t fit in, who has slept on other people’s couches, or the street, who has fallen down, gotten up, and ventured from home chasing a paying gig, or a new start.
“Being out on the road gives you a first-hand experience of how different kinds of Americans see themselves as going through some kind of great struggle,” Crockett says. “The roughneck working the oil and natural gas fields in West Texas. The single mother raising kids by herself. The young man working a street corner because he thinks it's his only option. I would be dishonest if I said I couldn’t see the thread. Each of ‘em feel invisible. I am struck by the battles they are fighting internally, and the ways they have been entrapped by what America says they are.”
The album was recorded at Arlyn Studios in Austin, produced by Crockett and his long-time collaborator Billy Horton. It was recorded live to tape, with anywhere from 6-12 musicians and backup singers on each track, giving the songs the feel of a live performance. It’s a sound Crockett has been after for years. “Reason I cut it on tape is because when you got the right people in the room, and the great players rise to the occasion when that red light is on and the tape is rolling, you get the magic of a great performance.”
It's exactly what he achieved with $10 Cowboy. Regular bandmates Fox, Nathan Fleming, and Mayo Valdez are joined by some of the genre’s most talented players—Rich Brotherton, Kevin Smith, Dave LeRoy Biller, T. Jarrod Bonta and others, including a string quartet. Lauren Cervantes and Angela Miller sing on the album. While the musicianship and accompaniment are exquisite, they are also subtle, placed joyously, yet judiciously across the album.
No, Crockett didn’t set out to write a themed record. Or, through his studied eye, to find America. But with $10 Cowboy, he might have done both.