It’s almost too appropriate for Charley Crockett to open his latest record, The Valley, with the song “Borrowed Time.” As he sings “I want to be free, that’s my only crime / Loving you on borrowed time,” it’s impossible not to hear the warbles of Crockett’s vocal cords without being reminded of the terrifying reality that preceded the album’s creation.
After going in for a somewhat routine checkup with his doctor, Crockett found out he needed to have open-heart surgery, and his future as a traveling musician following that surgery became uncertain. So, in early 2019, a week before a surgery to save his life, Crockett entered the studio and recorded The Valley, an album steeped in both the past and the future.
Because of his unexpected situation, there may be a perceived urgency on The Valley, but the truth is Crockett has long operated with urgency in his art. Between 2015 and 2018, he released five albums and toured thousands of miles, so when he received the news he needed to have surgery, the only thing that seemed certain in the midst of such life-altering unpredictability was to get back into the studio.
After getting the harsh reality of “Borrowed Time” out of the way, the remaining 14 tracks on The Valley continue to showcase a focused and grateful Crockett, a man who, regardless of what next week might hold for him, is dedicated to telling his story in the present. The title track may be the clearest and most beautiful representation of that as he sings his autobiography to anyone who will listen. More than a reflection on his roots, though, “The Valley” is a hopeful look forward: “Now you know my story, I bet you got one like it, too / May your curse become a blessing, there ain’t nothing else to do.”
Though the album blends all sorts of sounds from folk to classic country to gospel-driven blues, there is a cohesiveness on The Valley that only a man like Crockett seems to be able to consistently achieve. On top of the genre-defying musicianship lies an authentic voice for fellow travelers of the wild frontier. No matter what the future may hold, Crockett sings with a sincerity and honesty that can’t be manufactured. “Now they’re closing up the world I’m living in,” he sings on closing track “Motel Time Again,” “And I guess I’ve got to go / Or at least they tell me so / Oh, I’m going home.” Crockett has found his home again on The Valley, and it’s a home that’s not only saved his life, but given him new life for decades to come.