Charley Crockett may have grown up on the Gulf Coast of Texas, but his first appearance on the eclectic Americana-at-sea Cayamo Cruise earlier this month left him with a serious set of sea legs. To restore his equilibrium, he took a trip to the Mississippi Delta and the city of Clarksdale — just the kind of musical pilgrimage that characterizes his new LP, Lonesome As a Shadow.
Set for an April 20th release via Thirty Tigers, Lonesome As a Shadow was cut at Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis under the eye of producer Matt Ross-Spang (Margo Price). Coming on the heels of Lil G.L.’s Honky Tonk Jubilee, a collection of classic country covers, it’s a more soulful side of the traditional roots-based sound that Crockett first honed as a street performer in New Orleans.
Rolling Stone Country spoke to Crockett about the new album and its lead track, “I Wanna Cry,” which is premiering today.
Who are you crying for on “I Wanna Cry?”
I’m crying for my sister. She died a couple years ago. She wasn’t quite 40 and she died outside of Port Arthur [in Texas], where she was on and off living throughout her life. I was down there playing a show not long after she died, and it just hit me. I was staying in someone’s guest house and the song just came to me.
You chose it as the lead song on the album. Was it because it’s such personal subject matter?
It’s my favorite song, that’s why I put it first. In my opinion, it’s the best song. People associate me a lot with this Texas, Louisiana, Cajun sound, and I think the song really, really embodies it. I wanted to put that forward.
There tends to be a strong sense of place in your music, even in your video for “Jamestown Ferry,” yet you spend a lot of time on the road. Why do you think that is?
When I was really young, I think I was trying to run away from growing up in Texas and Louisiana, I was trying to get away as much as possible. The older I’ve got the more I’ve needed to sing about the places I was raised. I’m able to really deal with never being in one place for more than two to three days by singing about [those places].
What made you head to Memphis to record this album?
It’s amazing the amount of artists who came from the Delta to Memphis to record. When you look at all those old soul records, the story over and over again is of these rural-based artists from the Southern part of the United States coming to Memphis and cutting records. Everyone from Elvis to Bobby Bland. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to cut a record at Sam Phillips, so when Matt took a meeting with me, I was like, “Yeah, I’d record with that guy any time.”
Coming off the honky-tonk record, what side of yourself are you showcasing with Lonesome As a Shadow?
The difference with this record is that every single song, I wrote. The last one was all covers, and In the Night  around half of them were covers. The thing is, I learned so much by recording those 20 honky-tonk songs. Man, those were all hits. That helped me arrange and write and finish a lot of the originals on this record.
Is there anything that you think is missing from contemporary songwriting that you’re drawn to in traditional music?
Before this modern era, it was all about recording a great song, wherever you got it from. I mean, look at Dylan. He changed music, and everything he wrote was based on traditional music. I could never fucking out-write Dylan.