Vincent Neil Emerson has become a staple among folk and country music fans nationwide, celebrated for his honest tales of life on the road, heartbreak, and struggles of all sorts. His first LP, Fried Chicken & Evil Women, from 2019, established him as a refreshing voice in the modern country music landscape. The songs from that first album were charming and playful songs, but didn’t reveal the entirety of Emerson’s story.

On his brilliant new album, The Golden Crystal Kingdom, Emerson transcends the role of a honky-tonk country singer and becomes a chronicler of his history. The album is a bold continuation of the story he tells on Vincent Neil Emerson, with songs like the title track exploring the feelings he was left with after his days spent playing in Texas honky-tonks and dancehalls, and the track “The Time of The Rambler,” inspired by the early days of living in his
car and busking on the streets.

He was born and partly raised in East Texas, around his Choctaw-Apache family, and spent most of his life moving around the state. Raised by a single mother, he lost his father to suicide when he was nine. Emerson dealt with those feelings of abandonment and loss on his self-titled album, with the track “Learning to Drown” in particular.

His grandmother and grandfather brought the family to Texas when Emerson’s mother was a child, leaving their ancestral Choctaw-Apache homelands in Louisiana behind to try and build a better life for themselves and their children. Emerson always identified with his Native American roots, but it wasn’t until 2021’s self-titled album that he examined and tried to shed light on the devastating history of his tribe with the song “Ballad of the Choctaw Apache.”

Sonically, The Golden Crystal Kingdom finds Emerson expanding his scope into rock and roll territory, tapping into the storied sounds of folk music gone electric, and following in the footsteps of artists like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. On the album, Emerson retains his diamond-sharp storytelling while imbuing the work with a freewheeling rock and roll aesthetic, creating an album as fun as his live shows and as cathartic as his previous work.

With production from Shooter Jennings, Emerson wanted to establish some sounds as touchstones but emphasized following his own intuition for the aesthetics of his record. “I didn't really want to model this record after anybody else's music, but I've been heavily influenced by a lot of old rock and roll music from the sixties and seventies singer-songwriter music,” Emerson explains.

The album wasn’t necessarily created as an opposing force to the country and folk sounds his fans have come to expect, but he did want to make a record that showcased another side of himself as a writer. He also leaned on friends and collaborators like Jennings, Steve Earle, and Rodney Crowell to help him flesh out this album.

Emerson has been able to call these one-time heroes friends and mentors, and it is these relationships that have helped the songwriter find his confidehistory and standing up for the causes he believes in. Emerson wrote “Man From Uvalde” after the horrific and tragic mass shooting in the city of Uvalde, Texas, and he was initially hesitant to include the track on The Golden Crystal Kingdom. “It's a daunting thing to try to dive into social issues in songwriting because I wasn’t sure how people would really take it,” Emerson says. “I recorded a rough demo version of the song, and I sent it to Steve [Earle]. I just wanted to get his thoughts on it and see if it was worth anything. He got back to me, and he said he really liked the song and thought it was great. He gave me a few ideas and ways to look at the subject differently, and it really helped me finish the song. That encouragement gave me the confidence to include it on the album.”

The Golden Crystal Kingdom also pays tribute to some of the peers Emerson cut his teeth with in the music scene. He covers the Charley Crockett song, “Time of the Cottonwood Trees,” and is quick to pay tribute to his labelmate and dear friend Colter Wall. “Those two had my back since day one. They’ve been some of my biggest supporters, and they’ve always inspired me to write better songs and encouraged me to pursue this,” Emerson reflects. “Especially at a time when I was starting out and I didn't really have a lot of encouragement or even self-confidence to do this, they were always there for me.”

As a kid who grew up in a trailer with a single mother, went through bouts of homelessness as a young man, and grinded through countless shows to get where he’s at, Vincent Neil Emerson is never quick to praise his own work ethic. He always refers to the friends, family members, and collaborators who have shown their faith in his vision.

But humility doesn’t mean Emerson isn’t one of the hardest working, most talented songwriters to emerge from the alt-country underground in years. His style is one of a kind, and his ability to blend tales of the everyman with tributes to his past, present, and future make him a peerless songwriter. On The Golden Crystal Kingdom, Vincent Neil Emerson carries on the torch of his singer-songwriter forebears while infusing the legacy with his unique and thrilling point of view.

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