Physically, Christopher Lockett is a fairly big guy who used to work as a bouncer, played sports in his youth, and can be imposing if he wants to. “No one looks at me and says, “Yeah, that man…clearly a reader,” he jokes. “You only get that if you get to know me. Or listen to the songs I’ve written.”
These songs have been described as “country for intellectuals…(written) in the style of classic artists like Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt” (LA Music Critic), and noted as having “…insightful lyrics from a journalistic minded writer” (Turnstyled Junkpiled Magazine) and “…great lines in just about every song (No Depression), while he himself has been esteemed as a “substantial and soulful songwriter” (American Songwriter). In other words, Christopher Lockett has a gift for telling stories.
At The Station is a 12-song story that pairs Lockett with producer Fernando Perdomo and mastering engineer Zach Ziskin for a second time. “Fernando is really good at working with singer-songwriters. His whole process starts with having me sing and play a scratch track of vocals and guitar live to a click track, like I was playing a solo show. We start building from there. Drums, bass, re-record acoustic guitars, then vocals and other instruments. The finished songs are definitely more listenable and drive pretty hard.”
With a low baritone voice that has some grit and gravel to it, Kris Kristofferson, Warren Zevon, and Tom Waits might first spring to mind as influences. “No one who hears me would ever think that Nanci Griffith or Kate Wolf or Emmylou Harris are influences, but they are. I’ve been listening to Emmylou, literally, my entire life. My Mom was Emmylou’s high school P.E. teacher.” Known for playing a variety of instruments that most people would not expect; Kalimba, jaw harp, Appalachian dulcimer and blues harp, he cites several Harmonica players who have also influenced him. “Elder Roma Wilson, Snooky Pryor, Sonny Terry, Jason Ricci, Adam Gussow, and DeFord Bailey—all very different players from each other. I even have a track on this album called ‘Blues for DeFord Bailey’”.
“Even though I only play harmonica on two tracks on this album, it’s far and away my strongest instrument,” he states. “My grandmother and step-grandfather taught me how to play when I was a kid. They played mostly straight harp; Irish, British Isles, and Southern folk tunes. I can play that too, and enjoy a good lonesome cowboy harmonica warble. But something just clicks with blues harp for me. I was fortunate in my past career as a journalist and photojournalist to have spent some time with Honeyboy Edwards, Johnny Shines, and Robert Junior Lockwood. All have passed on now, but they were men of the Robert Johnson era of Mississippi Delta blues.”
Lockett is an award-winning cinematographer, photographer and director whose day job requires a lot of travel. “I’ve worked on 5 continents thus far, and try to find local musicians to play with while I’m abroad. I bring home local instruments and sometimes rhythms and melodies, too. So it all gets stirred and simmered in the same gumbo pot.”
At The Station focuses on a microcosm of Lockett’s world, the mortality of his parents. The title cut is a goodbye letter to his mother who has end-stage Alzheimer’s. (His Dad died in December 2020 on the 60th anniversary of his marriage to Lockett’s mother). “Loss is a big theme. So is anger. So is love for this life, come what may,” he observes. “Short answer-mortality, joy, and the path forward through the wreckage. Long answer-I bring to this album the appreciation for being alive, and the desire to share thoughts and songs and experiences with people with more experience, energy and hope than I have had in years. This ain’t no Pollyanna hope, either. This is hard-won, looked into the abyss, came back wanting to play more music kind of hope.”
That hope infuses songs like “Whiskey for Everything” and “Wet a Line”, which celebrate being alive, while there are love songs to independent women such as “Bring Your Love On Home To Me,” and protest songs like “E Pluribus Unum” and “The Reckoning”.
“The Reckoning” is the kick-off song featuring Fernando’s electric guitar and Kitten Kuroi’s vocals. “They give it much more impact than the purely acoustic demo I recorded,” he notes. “They make the song hit harder, and it needed to hit hard. It’s very much a protest song influenced by Woody Guthrie’s ‘Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)’. I saw photos of field workers harvesting the food everyone eats when it was 110F with smoke from the wildfires rising over the mountains in the background. That hit me hard. Collectively, we look the other way from the labor abuses of the agricultural industry. We call them ‘essential workers’ during the pandemic, and ‘unskilled labor’ from corner offices when placing their labor on a line item. There will be a reckoning on farm worker labor rights and the food supply chain in the is country someday. It’s long overdue.”
The aforementioned “At The Station” features Scarlet Rivera on violin. “For my Mom, I know the end is coming, and like the train of time that is speeding up in the song, I know it will be sooner than later. Spending time with someone, trying to say goodbye the best way you know how, is time well spent,” he observes. “The structure of that song is a departure for me. Writing it, the verse seemed to want to be a chorus and the chorus seemed to want to be a verse. So, I called them ‘versechoruses’ and repeated them, as I might if talking with my Mom. Scarlet Rivera’s violin is absolutely perfect for the tone and feeling we were going for on that song.”
“Blues for DeFord Bailey” tells the story of the WSM country music radio star. The highly popular radio show, “WSM Barn Dance” morphed into “The Grand Ole Opry” in 1927. Bailey had been on the air since 1926 and was popular with WSM listeners. His troubles began when he went out on the road for package tours with other popular Grand Ole Opry Stars. That’s when audiences of the Jim Crow era American South realized one of the most popular artists in the country music genre was Black. Lockett notes, “I wish more people knew his story and music. Thankfully, Ken Burns put DeFord Bailey front and center again in his 8-part documentary on Country Music. His name and music should be better known.”
The record ends with “Sweat Work”— They want your rhythm but not your blues/ Couldn’t dance a step if they stole your shoes. “It’s a little warning about people who will try to take what is good and honest and real for themselves, while leaving the messy parts for someone else. It felt like a strong, sweaty way to close out the album. The world may be an absolute mess, but still gotta dance. Onward, through the wreckage.”
Lockett prides himself on staying open to deeply resonant human experiences. “I keep reading, keep finding artists who inspire me, ask the big questions, keep learning, keep stretching. Go places that aren’t convenient. Follow where the trail leads just to see what’s around the bend. I try to write the kind of songs that I’d like to hear, that might help me or someone else through some rough times in life—no shortage of those. Having these albums out is very important to me. I don’t have kids, so they’re what I get to leave behind, I suppose. Proof that I was here, at least.”
At The Station releases on May 13th, 2022