Vincent Neil Emerson – The Golden Crystal Kingdom
Some artists start their career by telling their origin story on Day One (Margo Price leading off her debut album with “Hands of Time” springs to mind). Others, like Vincent Neil Emrson, prefer to settle in a bit first. His debut, 2019’s Fried Chicken & Evil Women, was a lived-in collection of barroom country tales. His self-titled second record began to parse his heritage, particularly in “The Ballad of the Choctaw-Apache.” But it’s his third album, the just-released The Golden Crystal Kingdom, that really dives head-first into Emerson’s rugged youth in East Texas, his early days as a starving musician and Native mythology, and it ends up being one of 2023’s most intriguing collections of stories.
LIke any good musician origin tale, there has to be a song or two about bad gigs and worse accommodations, and Emerson tackles that on the album’s first track, “Time of the Rambler.” Against acoustic guitar and the subtle twang of Jon Graboff’s pedal steel, the singer reminisces on both his bygone days touring (and surviving) in his car while playing for scraps – “Well, I been down/Livin’ on the street/Been playing for change/To a crowd of moving feet” – and the type of far-off opportunity that this lifestyle offered, seemingly manufactured out of the business now – “Well, it seems to be there ain’t nuthin’ left/For the gambler/But the game, won’t ever change.” Those divey gigs (and the folks at them) get a kind-hearted jab in the title cut, with Emerson bemoaning the situation that all of us well-mannered concert-goers face – “I been playin’ in their honky tonks and bars/But the babbling of the crowd has lost its charm” – and wishing to be where good listeners appreciate great tunes – “I wish I was back in my Texas home/I’d rather sing this song at the Country Store.”
Emerson takes time on this career-turning record to appreciate friends and idols. He offers up a gorgeous cover of fellow Texan Charley Crockett’s “Time of the Cottonwood Trees.” He also provides a simmering take on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Cod’ine.” The Canadian-American singer-songwriter’s Native heritage has been called into doubt recently, but Emerson defended her on-stage in Denver last month, and her tale of addiction from an indigenous perspective – “Feel like I’m dyin’/And I wish I was dead/If I live ‘til tomorrow/That’ll be a long time” – is more relevant than any flashpoint controversy.
The best parts of The Golden Crystal Kingdom, though, come when Emerson digs into his own Texas home and Choctaw-Apache heritage. “The Man from Uvalde” is told from the perspective of folks who endured the murderous school rampage in the Hill Country town and the rage that followed, a rage that went well beyond the shooter – “Oh lord what have they done?/I think they killed my son/I never hurt no man/But I’d strangle every one.” The anger – at cowardly cops, lax gun laws and intentionally deceptive right-wing media – comes through in both Emerson’s words and his incendiary guitar work. Album capper “Little Wolf’s Invincible Yellow Medicine Paint” recalls the Native legend of a body covering that will protect against bullets, arrows and savage white men. Album producer Shooter Jennings took heed of Emerson’s desire to make his third record a BIG one with a classic rock sound, particularly on this track, where unyielding guitars reflect the indomitable people of a once thriving prairie, turned fallow – “Now there ain’t nuthin’ left/But the dry and barren land/And the empty callous hands/That have sifted through the sand.” Back then, nothing was left for Emerson’s ancestors, but they fought on – “I have been down/But I ain’t out yet/Keep your prayers/That I find my worthy death.” With a writer like Emerson telling their stories, they won’t be forgotten.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: I saw Emerson last month, and the guitars on “Little Wolf’s Invincible Yellow Medicine Paint” fill up a damn room. Shooter’s a damn good producer, but these boys can get it done on the road, too – don’t miss Emerson and his band when they swing through your town.
The Golden Crystal Kingdom was produced by Shooter Jennings, recorded and mixed by David Spreng and mastered by Pete Lyman. All original songs written by Vincent Neil Emerson. Musicians on the album include Emerson (vocals, acoustic and electric guitar), Jennings (piano, synthesizers), Jaime Douglas (drums), Jon Graboff (pedal steel), Ted Russell Kamp (bass) and John Schreffler Jr. (electric guitar).
Go here to order The Golden Crystal Kingdom (out now): https://vincentneilemerson.lnk.to/GCK
Check out tour dates here: https://www.vincentneilemerson.com/
Enjoy our earlier interview here: Interview: A chat with Vincent Neil Emerson about the new album, Fried Chicken and Evil Women.