Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
Hot damn! Just what the doctor ordered. This is serious outlaw, honky tonk, hell raisin’ music. And it should be played loud. All I know is that when I hear that pedal steel, it gets the blood flowing. And there is plenty of steel on Smokin, Drinkin, & Gamblin. Yes, it is very much 1977. That is the golden age of outlaw so ’77 is a good year to target. Craig has that perfect country voice with a bit of twang and a very strong set of pipes.
Craig hails from rural Illinois, although his voice and music put him somewhere in West Texas. He is no stranger to country music, as he played in a band with his dad at ten years old. He grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry through a faded radio signal. Those are the roots of the tree but the branches spread a little further, crossing into gospel and blues territory.
This release is not for the faint of heart. This music is rowdy and tends to elicit thoughts of rowdiness and throwing caution to the wind. If you can handle that, than have at it. No song encapsulates that rowdiness like the shack shakin’ Redneck Sonsabitches (Track 4). This song is a lament about the division between the real musicians and the music row establishment in Nashville. And it depicts it beautifully, both the words and music. With a little more feedback and electric guitar, this could be a punk number. It has all of the aggression and speed. Hell, it is a punk song already.
Yes there is plenty of swagger on this release, but Craig managed to slip in a few very sensitive and heartfelt ballads. You Saved Me From Me (Track 5) is a heavy emotional number from the opening note. The acoustic guitar intro let me know that this song was going to be very introspective, and it is. This song is about redemption. I am not sure if Craig is talking about a higher power, a true love, his kids or that and maybe more. The point is this song is interchangeable and all of us can relate. Everybody needs someone or something to guide them from the dark side.
Let’s take a break from the melancholy music and get back to the foot stompin’. On Smokin, Drinkin, & Gamblin (Track 1), Craig channels the spirit of Waylon and sings about his former life of smoking, drinking, and gambling. This is another song that deals with some serious content without glorifying it. The music doesn’t give any indication of the lyrical content. It all works perfectly together and is another reminder that life is full of paradoxes.
This is another album where I am a little late to the dinner table. But there is still time because Smokin, Drinkin & Gamblin has a very long shelf life. Add it to the list of amazing releases in 2018. And one that belongs in a good country music collection.