Ask young artists about their dreams. Most will tell you they’d love to headline in big arenas or maybe debut on the Grand Ole Opry.
Charlie Farley’s dreams are simpler than that.
“I just want to stay where I am, down in Watson, Oklahoma,” he answers. “It’s just across the line from Arkansas, maybe 40 miles north of De Queen, where I grew up. I want to raise my kids. I want to go hunting and fishing — I’m definitely into competitive fishing. And I want to keep doing Charlie Farley Music.”
In other words, he’s got his priorities right: First comes life. Then comes the inspiration to capture it through song.
Other folks might call it country rap or, with the best of intentions, hick-hop. But CFM is the perfect label, because his second album, All I’ve Been Through, takes everything that came before him in this genre up to a new level of expression.
The title explains why. When he cut his first album for Average Joes Entertainment, Hog Heaven, just two years ago, he was a young guy stretching his wings. Since then, much has changed in his life, which of course has informed as well. “I was a frickin’ basket case back then,” he says, its a chuckle. “I was a partyin’ guy. Yeah, I had kids, but I was a kid when I had my kids. All I wanted to do was to get drunk and have a good time.”
That’s understandable, when you consider what he had to deal with as a kid. He’s as country as they come — raised among the oak and pine trees outside of De Queen. Both parents worked for the railroad until his father broke his neck and his mother got laid off. After their divorce, Farley continued to grow up in a humble household. He lived with his mom and stepfather, who made his living as a logger. His dad kept him in the woods hunting or fishing every other weekend when Farley would get to see him. Eventually, Charlie would become an expert angler; he has been involved with Walmart’s Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) and Bass Fishing League (BFL). His song, “Exposed,” is the official theme for Propatterns.com’s popular web series “Exposed: Pros on Tour.” It’s also being played as the Ad Package for Propatterns on NBC Sports’ “Timmy Horton Outdoors.”
His sister’s death, when he was 12 years old and she was just 3, was the toughest challenge Farley had ever faced. It also proved transformative. “That’s why I started writing, just to get out the feelings that I had,” he says. “That molded me into who I am now.”
That is the over-arching theme of All I’ve Been Through. “I’ve gotten wiser,” he says. “I realize what’s really important and what ain’t. That’s starting to come through in my music. Hog Heaven said, ‘This is what I do.’ All I’ve Been Through says, ‘This is who I am.’”
Begin with the title track, which opens the album. It was important to Farley that listeners know his music has more than one dimension. “Everybody is making mud tracks or drinkin’ songs,” he observes. “That’s why our genre is not getting any bigger than it is right now. Nobody is going to take us seriously if we can’t write about anything other than getting drunk and going mudding. Sure, that’s part of what we do, but that’s not all that we do.”
Farley quotes a lyric from the song: “‘Mud ain’t all that I’ve been through. And beer ain’t all that I can brew.’ That introduces the album by hitting you in the gut real quick. You’re either going to hate us or you’re going to love us, but I’m gonna tell you how it is and then we can move on from there.”
And so there are tracks on All I’ve Been Through that evoke the romance of dancing with a loved one under a starry rural sky (“Headlights”). There’s a paean to down-home idylls (“Southern Summer”) and a song you would think was a drinking song by its title (“Southern Comfort”) but it’s actually a song about his love affair with where he grew up. But each of these is part of a more complex patchwork. Other tracks range from defiant (“Concrete Dreams,”) proclaiming that “You can call me a sinner. You can call me a saint. You can say I’m a winner. You can say I ain’t. Just know it won’t change a damn thing”) to unabashedly painful.
The most candid and moving of those is probably “Red Rose,” which revisits the gap Farley still feels in his heart for his departed sister. Here, another side of Charlie Farley Music reveals itself, one in which his recited words take on an eloquence even traditional songwriters rarely achieve.
“Man, this was so hard to write about,” he admits. “But I had to write it because I knew that maybe it could help people out there who have gone through the same thing.”
Like Hog Heaven, All I’ve Been Through stands on a foundation laid by J Fresh and DJ KO, a.k.a. Phivestarr, with the exception of “Concrete Dreams,” a collaborative effort between Phivestarr, Cannon Banyon and Stephen Lemmons. Each song began with the Nashville-based production duo sending instrumental tracks to Farley, who would then let his response to the music point him toward the message he wanted to convey. “They know that I write constantly,” he says. “And every track they sent me, I would send back with my lyrics. I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m gonna write about all I’ve been through.’ It just turned into what it is because that’s the kind of artist I am.”
Enhanced by guest appearances from Colt Ford, Daniel Lee, Cody Davis, Alex Hall and Noah Gordon, All I’ve Been Through succeeds on several levels but perhaps most significantly as an assertion that Charlie Farley Music deserves to be heard — and that other innovators shouldn’t fear to express themselves honestly either.
“If you’ve never listened to this type of music, put this on, put the beat in the background and listen to ‘Love Harder,’” he advises. “To me, that’s a pure country track because it’s about the story. It’s about touching somebody. It explains how I went on the road and went to parties every night and lost my wife until I realized I’d better go get her back. So I did, but then I lost her again. It’s really personal — and it’s really country.
“Or listen to ‘Cashville,’ which is about a boy that didn’t have a shot in hell coming from southwest Arkansas to the city lights and trying to make something for himself.”
“It ain’t nothin’ to be afraid of.”