Singer/songwriter Chris Kokesh once referred to Lincoln Crockett’s music as “A kick in the pants with a hug. Like ‘Hey, wake up’ and ‘I understand, we’re all in this together’.” Willy Nelson has joked that he has only really ever written two songs: falling into love and falling out of love. Crockett jokes only one: “It sucked, but I transcended it”.
Lincoln Crockett is a healer. A man with a knack for soothing harmonies and bluegrassy picking, his fluid themes and chords play to those private places only music can, where we are best expressed in melody and harmony. Earthy, grungy, acoustic prog-rock, new-grass, pop-folk with the social consciousness of Michael Franti, the clean honesty of James Taylor, the backward longing of Gillian Welch and grooves that are simultaneously upbeat and behind the beat.
Lincoln Sutherland Crockett's formative years predisposed him to being a melting pot of sounds, and to a penchant for a life of travel. By the time he was ten he'd lived in nine places in five states in the West, Midwest and East Coast. Music was always always around, from his musically-trained father's favored jazz and avant garde composers, to his note-perfect singing mother's Cat Stevens and Beatles LPs.
"I remember having a little hand-held AM/FM radio that had one single earpiece, and I'd listen to that for what seemed like hours. One time my dad came in a told me he was impressed I had just whistled the entire solo of whatever song had just been on. I hadn't even noticed I was doing it, but that complement had me floatin' on cloud nine," remembers Crockett.
All this resulted in a songwriter with a rare skill: the ability to honestly express himself in wide range of styles and still always sound completely, unmistakably unique. Listening to Lincoln's songs you have a solid sense that this is a guy who has gone to the bottom of the well and come back realizing there is no well: he sings, plays, thinks and is what he does because nothing else remained when the rest fell away.
"In terms of modern sounds I am always referencing Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Sting, Lennon & Macca, and Bruce Springsteen (especially the Seeger Sessions) by way of who they were: musicians emboldened by their love of music and love of the world and driven by their struggle with the weight of its condition," says Crockett.
Enter Bluegrass. As soon as he could, Lincoln moved West. While playing in funk, rock, and ska bands he ran into an unusual fellow: a banjo player. "I'd heard banjos before but never been up close. There was something different about this guy, how he held himself, where he drew the music from, all those songs about longing for 'home'. I had no idea what do to with it, but it opened me up to something new." From there it was a short hop to bluegrass jams at then-budding Rocky-Mountain bluegrass hotbed Boulder, Colorado, all done on guitar. It was in Boulder that Lincoln began woodsheding, living on credit and honing his songwriting and singing skills. He spent time recording demos and ended up capturing a couple of the tracks that appear on his diverse 2004 EP "Make Love Music".
At this point, in 2000, Lincoln had still never picked up a mandolin. To get there he found himself producing a CD by Portland songwriter James Loveland and singer Zoë Kaplan. One track in particular, written for James' infant niece, needed something. "I heard a mandolin part in there. I didn't know any mandolin players so I borrowed this old seven dollar plywood mando from a friend. You know how they say the really hard decisions in life aren't that important and the big decisions are easy? That was one of those easy moments..."
A year later Lincoln moved to Portland was tapped by virtuoso guitarist Jon Ostrom - who was coming off a stint with stalwart Pacific Northwest bluegrass jam-band Higher Ground - to help define the progressive bluegrass sound of fledgling band Cross-eyed Rosie. The band took its name from a drink at popular late-night eatery The Montage, and took its cues from traditional bluegrass and folk musics. Rosie took off in a hurry and found itself playing at major events like the San Francisco Bluegrass and Old Time Festival, Tacoma's Wintergrass Festival, and Telluride Bluegrass Festival. "Suddenly I found that I was expressing myself through this tiny instrument in front of huge audiences. It forced me to find my voice. I've always felt like music is a broad vein that runs through people, so I tapped in to see what came through." Lincoln's voice is unmistakable on any instrument. Lyrically he gravitates toward hard-to-hear subjects that are still easy on the ear, songs that are very personal and very accessible all at the same time. "I’m not writing ‘new traditionals’, ya know, new songs in the old style. I am only writing if I have something to say. I like to think I help modern people navigate meaninglessness. Inside of each of us we have our own piece of the puzzle, the unique pattern of chinks in our armor, the hand-prints of our struggles and triumphs. I love that in people. A friend told me recently ‘You can either go through struggles or be rocked to sleep in the devil’s arms’. In my experiences at the point of 100% struggle something pops and there's miracles in there. But in a way it's moot. I don't think anyone or anything is broken. Folks who make use of their dispositions become truly remarkable people..." "...and POP, I guess you've got another miracle there, too."
This idea seems to seep into every one of Lincoln's songs on some level, like cracks of light through dense cement. In the Paul Simon-meets-Martin Sexton stomp-swing of 'Monkey' from 'Make Love Music' he sings "this monkey on my back/ has all the grace I need". Nowhere is this more perfectly laid out than his prayer-set-to-song 'Be Real', also on 'MLM'. As the groove rolls through the chords he whisper/sings "love wants for us/ what we do not/ even know we need/ Be Real...". Whether at house concerts or coffee shops, folk festivals or bars, Lincoln is an advocate of sustainability, emotional sanity, and a voice for the people who would throw the ring back into the mountain. Where Greg Brown is fascinated with the era when country blues was becoming city blues - when country folk were deciding whether or not to move to the city - Lincoln is the great grandson of people who made that move. Now he has moved back towards the country, both musically and in real life. You can hear him struggle with this in 'Elders' and conclude "I love all my elders/ cuz in them we're blessed/ let's forgive the departed/ and God bless the rest." Just listen to the propulsive agility of the recent demo cut 'Gone Away' or the ache and beauty of popular live favorite 'Sawdust Settler'.
This is what happens when the river runs the other way, back out to the country. When the water evaporates off the ocean to hustle rain over the sky, to return back to the land. This is what happens when a child of complex 20th century urban music discovers roots music, bluegrass, acoustic guitars and mandolins, folk songs and harmonies. There's a gentleness and a strength to Lincoln Crockett, like your best friend if he was kind & forceful, with a long hug and a sock in the shoulder, and who'd rather talk about the weather last, after all the real stuff. His songs touch the mystery and other people with it. Sometimes profane, sometimes profound, always lucid, perhaps the best description is no description at all but to say... ...there it is. . . . . . . . . . . .