Album Review of Billy Crockett: Rabbit Hole
Billy Crockett opened the Kerrville Folk Festival’s main stage this year. He is widely revered within folk music circles. And, as I first discovered at a house concert in April and found confirmed by repeated listens to his newest album Rabbit Hole, he has as good a shot as anyone (and better than most) at making that leap into the broader public consciousness.
Billy’s voice is an original. It’s his calling card. It’s the perfect voice for a storyteller. While he often channels emotion via an exceptionally emotive vocalization a la Randy Newman, he does it with a voice that can be as smooth and able to hit big notes as Bob Halligan or Joshua Kadison. It’s a style that works well for him. I can picture Billy’s songs providing the narrative to a play or film, with Billy himself serving as the singing narrator. In fact, if there’s ever a remake of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, I’d nominate Billy Crockett for Burl Ives’ narrating snowman role.
With that in mind, Rabbit Hole is an engaging collection of folk paintings, with Billy’s voice serving as the paintbrush, or folk stories, as told by a master storyteller. And, though I hadn’t intended to mention each and every song when I initially planned this review, I found it impossible to leave even one out once I started composing the review, so here you go…
The title track kicks things off in a carnival barker-ish style that’s an instant attention-grabber. Indeed, Billy’s narrating the story as an Alice in Wonderland-ish Mat Hatter exploring things rabbit hole-related. It’s a unique song, an interesting journey, a great way to kick things off.
“Record Player” follows, with guitar-slapping syncopation, an emotional voice, a cheery rhythm, and a healthy dose of nostalgia. As a standalone track, I think this one is my personal favorite.
Forboding vocals, as hinted at on “Rabbit Hole,” return full on “On Your Way,” as if Billy’s lead and the backing Gospel-blues wails are warning of a gathering storm. It’s followed by the thoughtful “Drought,” with Billy’s wistful vocals painting a picture of drought, aided by carefully picked strings portraying raindrops.
As Billy moves around the big tent of folk styles and incorporates other influences, “Take Me” sports a bit of a Jimmy Buffett vibe, cheerful, playful, and relaxed. And, in an act of wise song placement, it’s followed by a soft song in the same vein, relaxed and happy, the mellow, comfortable “Almost Perfect,” replete with reminiscences and of the fortunate results of opportunities foregone.
“Spare Me” utilizes an accelerating and decelerating vocal tempo and sorrowful tone, along with sparse guitar strumming, to draw the listener closer and bring tears to the listener’s eyes. If you can withdraw yourself from the song’s emotion enough to examine it, the song structure is as interesting as its content.
Fortunately, Billy doesn’t leave the mood low for long, as “That’s Something” is the next song up. Impossible to stay down in the face of this song’s building wave of cheerfulness, as powered by its upbeat music, it’s an ode to small pleasures and the subtle things at which to marvel in everyday life, if someone’s eyes are open to them. Remaining upbeat, he follows that with “Mavis,” an uptempo, groovy ode to Mavis Staples (and to civil rights).
Next up is an homage to family he barely or never knew, those family members before his time, who he never met or merely crossed paths with as a young child. “Ghosts” is a softly-strummed, detailed, comfortable spoken-sung story-song that will bring a lump to your throat, even though the song is about complete strangers – well, not to Billy. And if you don’t get completely choked-up when his father arrives at his dinner of ghosts, you’re not human. Such a powerful song.
The mood comes right back up with “Big Old World,” the album’s final track. Utilizing the one-phrase-flows-into-the-next vocal style, it’s a happy ditty encouraging exploration of the world outside, living life beyond your four walls. Indeed, after the roller coaster of emotions in Rabbit Hole, it’s a great one on which to end. Enjoy life because every day’s a gift. As is this album. Thanks, Billy.
Beginning to end, Rabbit Hole is a masterwork from a masterful singer and songwriter in the folk genre. So I’ll repeat that thanks to Billy for sharing it with the rest of us. Now it’s up to you, reader, to take a listen.
Well, if you can get out to see Billy Crockett perform live, you should. I saw him perform a couple months ago, as I reviewed in the Blog. He opened up the Kerrville Folk Festival as the first opening night performer on the main stage last month. At the time, I inquired of an old music industry friend in attendance if she’d be at his performance, and she replied “Of course. I wouldn’t miss Billy.” So don’t miss Billy.
At the moment, according to the “Shows” page on Billy’s website, he lists only six upcoming shows, the first more than a couple months away: Saturday, September 30 at Rolando Diaz Fine Art in Santa Fe, NM; Saturday, November 11th at Blue Sage Hall in Kerrville, TX; Sunday, November 12th at Kessler Theater in Dallas, TX; Saturday, November 18th at the Cactus Cafe in Austin, TX; Sunday, November, 19th at the Dosey Doe Big Barn in The Woodlands, TX; and Friday, March 9, 2018 (next spring!) at The Calgary Folk Club in Calgary, Alberta, sharing the bill with Perla Batalla. Check back to Billy’s website for more updates; he added three of those six shows between my first draft of this review and its publication date.