In the last decade, there's been this interesting lane of artists that fit this Retro-core sound and aesthetic. I'm not even sure if that's the correct term for that sound, but that's what I'll call it for these purposes.
Artists like Leon Bridges come to mind, with his clear influence from '60s Motown soul artists like Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson. To Nathaniel Rateliff, who reinvented himself in the mid-2010's with his big band soulful swing rock. You know the aesthetic. The thrifted outfits from the '50s, '60s, and '70s with a tinge of modern style. The American traditional tattoos, the denim jackets, and for a period of time, those big "Nashville" hats, as I like to call them.
There was a time when that was the style for many Americana, Soul, Roots-revival, Folk, and Country bands and their fans. And for many cynics, that seemed like people were just nostalgia cosplaying.
However, I disagree. First, many of those pieces of clothing are timeless; a good pair of Levi's will last you forever. But really, I'm talking about the music; these aren't cover bands. They aren't artists who are simply trying to recreate cool music from the past. No, I actually attribute this to more of the accessibility of music through streaming and the continuation, in my opinion, of many much-underserved genres.
With streaming services beginning to boom in the late '00s and early '10s, there is a clear through line to artists like these where you can see them gaining unlimited access to artists, new and old, that would help shape their sounds. The aesthetic is to simply put you into that mindset of the music they are trying to create. Can you imagine if Charley Crockett wore New Balances, skinny jeans, and an oversized, overpriced t-shirt, singing, "The Man from Waco"? It'd feel a little odd.
So, instead, artists like Charley Crocket and Marcus King give odes to the past with their music and style. Crockett wants you to feel like you're in an old gymnasium or local town hall, seeing a list of touring acts, like back in the early Sun Records days of Johnny Cash, Elvis, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Marcus King, on the other hand, makes you feel like you're in the Filmore East, seeing the Allman Brothers, Neil Young, or many of those great bills from the '70s rock era.
Those sounds and aesthetics bore out on their stages during each and every one of their songs Tuesday evening at The Andrew J. Brady Music Center.
However, before Crockett and King took the stage, they were accompanied by the brilliant and talented Molly Tuttle and her band, The Golden Highway. The virtuoso guitarist blew fans away as the opening act with her Nickle Creek-esc style of Bluegrass and folk.
Tuttle is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive multi-instrumentalists I have seen. She has racked up multiple awards, including a Grammy for Bluegrass Album of the Year for her 2022 release Crooked Tree, along with being nominated for Best New Artist. Tuttle has also won the International Bluegrass Music Association's Guitar Player of the Year six times. She was the first female to receive that award from the IBMA as well. Making her possibly one of the best guitarists on earth right now. I will save my words for Tuttle as I will be seeing her again without a doubt, but if you haven't heard of her, run to your phones and listen to Molly Tuttle.
After Tuttle, San Benito, Texas' Charley Crockett was next. As mentioned before, Crockett's set was simple, with a velvet back curtain; Crockett brought fans back to a time when stage setting did not matter; simply the band and a curtain would have to suffice.
As the lights dimmed and stage lights went up, Crockett's five-piece band, the Blue Drifters, entered stage left. All dawning matching white and black Western button-downs, they clearly were giving a nod to the many great backing bands of Nashville's golden age and the Bakersfield sound with a The Buck Owen's Show-like intro. The band broke right into song, getting the crowd ready like George Jones was about to take the stage. As they warmed up the organ, the trumpet player gave Crockett the proper introduction, saying, "Ladies and Gentlemen from San Benito, Texas, it's Charley Crockett!"
Crockett then came out on stage with a big belt buckle, cowboy hat, and his big white smile. Without saying anything, Crockett and company took Crockett's other persona, Lil G.L. Crockett. Like Hank Williams had "Luke the Drifter," Crockett has another name or persona, Lil G.L. Crockett. Named after a rather unknown R&B artist, G.L. Crockett. He began by covering one of his songs, "It's a Man Down There."
This was an interesting choice, I thought, because it's not by any means a country tune. However, Crockett is so much more than a country artist. Having split time between summers in the French Quarter of New Orleans and Deep Ellum, Dallas, Crockett has Creole, Cajan, Jewish, and Black heritage. This clearly informed and influenced his tastes in music. Although Crockett presents as a true classic country act, there are elements of R&B, Creole Jazz, Cajan country, Honky Tonk, and rockabilly all throughout.
From there, Crockett was off and running. A man of very few words, Crockett stuffed 21 songs in a matter of an hour-and-a-half, that's with a quick interruption from the crowd. He probably would've been able to fit more in there. This format of setlist really reminded me of albums like Merle Haggard's Okie From Muskogee; the record is just under 41 minutes and crams in 19 songs if you don't count the intro where Haggard is ironically awarded the key to the city of Muskogee. That format was later adapted by many of the great punk bands of the '70s and early '80s hardcore bands, short, fast, and as many songs as they could play.
From "In The Night" to "Music City U.S.A.," Crockett gave fans everything in the first half of the set without even touching his truly big hits. Tossing in a few covers of Johnny Paycheck, George Jones, and Crockett's mentor, James "Slim" Hand.
For those who haven't heard Crockett's music, it is the Spaghetti Western of modern countries, like a Tarantino ode to the great Western Films of the '50s and '60s. The songs are often dramatic, filled with grit, and paired with Crockett's deep drawl, creating these landscape-like depictions of modern Country Western music.
This shouldn't be confused with the Outlaw Country music resurgence from artists like Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson. Much of that music is depicting the struggles of modern Appalachia. There's a lot more brevity to Crockett's music as much as there is to drama. Much like his predecessors, Crockett is making music for those desolate small Texas towns, with the tumbleweed rolling on through. Although, Crockett does have a claim to being arguably the most "Outlaw" artist of all of them. Having actually spent time in jail, panhandling, and being a real country troubadour. His music, however, reflects the simple and hard lives of the working-class Texan.
As the show continued on, Crockett broke out some of my personal favorite tunes, "Welcome to Hard Times," his cover of Tanya Tucker's "The Jamestown Ferry," and "The Man From Waco." All tunes that also got the crowd invigorated.
Crockett finished the show with "Silver Dagger" and "I'm Just a Clown," both songs that highlight more of his '70s R&B-influenced country. One of my favorite parts of the set came when the organ player would duel with his trumpet, which he did during both of these songs; they added whole new layers to Crockett's music.
Crockett's set finished around 9:20 pm, and fans were getting tired, you could tell. However, for those willing to keep on truckin', they were about to be wakin' by the thunderous guitars of Marcus King.
The 27-year-old Greenville, South Carolina, guitarist and singer-songwriter Marcus King has slowly emerged as one of the more highly in-demand touring artists in America. With his southern roots, King was raised on the music of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. However, his proficiency in guitar stems from his study of Jazz and Blues theory. That all being said, one touchstone jumps out when listening to King's music. The Allman Brothers and the guitar playing of Duane Allman.
As the roadies set up King's stage, you could tell he comes from the school of thought, plug in, turn it up, and blast away. Backed by nothing other than a solid wall of Orange Amps, you could tell King loves his sound and loves it to sound loud. Similar to his producer and peer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. I found at least in King's studio work, especially on his 2020 release El Dorado, Auerbach's hands were all over that record. It was loud and deeply rooted in Southern Rock, Blues, and Soul. With a similar amount of grit and fuzziness that Auerbach has become so well known for.
That sound compliments not only King's guitar-playing ability but his incredible singing voice; his voice was on full display early on when King covered Jimmy Cliff's gospel tune, "Many Rivers to Cross." You could hear people in the audience talking about King's voice as it had such depth. King sings like he's been heartbroken his whole life with the painstaking vocals of someone who has lived a thousand lives. Don't let his babyface fool you. King is an old soul.
That wouldn't be the only cover King did of the evening. Actually, he almost made an effort to give odes to Blues, Country, and Rock classics throughout his set. From covering the blues standard, Cream's version of "Crossroads," to Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love You," to
Muddy Water's "Hoochie Coochie Man," also made famous by the Allman Brothers, to even covering Willie and Waylon's "Good Hearted Women," to name a few.
However, without a doubt, the best cover of the evening came when Briley King, King's wife, joined her husband on stage for one of the most authentic and intimate covers of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide." Of course, I've seen this song covered so many times that you just lose appreciation for how perfect of a song it is and why it carries so much weight. The reason for its legendary status is not only because of its beautiful and undeniable hook, but it's because of the knowledge of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham's tumultuous love affair. It really should only be covered by two people truly in love. It brought an entirely new level of emotion to the song that just isn't conveyed by someone going through the motions. Now, it helps that Briley King's voice was also phenomenal, but it was truly the highlight of the evening for me.
As the band rejoined the King's on stage, they again dueted on my favorite song of King's, "Goodbye Carolina." A heartbreaking ode to King's home of South Carolina that is reminiscent of Greg Allman at his most soulful and emotional, his Eat A Peach era.
As the evening ended, King noted to the crowd that all three artists put this tour together because of their admiration for one another and to see if they could truly draw out crowds that would fill theatres like The Andrew J. Brady Music Center. Simply, the answer is yes; they could draw a crowd. Nearly sold out on a Tuesday, each one of these artists could've brought this crowd in separately. So, to be able to see them all in one night felt like you were stealing these tickets.
But what does that say about each one of these "Retro-core" artists? None of them were necessarily the same. You had a virtuoso Bluegrass band, a country artist drawing from all corners of music, and a soulful Southern Rock Blues guitarist. What they have in common is a shared desire to continue the legacy of forgotten greats while putting their stamp on their respective genres. By no means were these posers making their best impressions of their favorite artists. No, these are all bonafide stars in their respective genres, coming together to honor the past while challenging where their sounds could go.