REVIEW: Tyler Childers – ‘Purgatory’


For those who like to be ahead of the curve, Tyler Childers name might be familiar. He was featured on Colter Wall’s album. You will recall the duet on ‘Fraulein’. He also released an album back in 2011, ‘Bottles and Bibles’ that didn’t hugely register. It might now.

Tyler Childers is a southern storyteller from Lawrence County, Kentucky. I’m guessing he hits the musical trail alongside any number of similarly mega talented young singer songwriters striving for the opportunity for his songs to be heard in the wider world.

The lucky break for Tyler Childers was an introduction. I’m sure that this is a story that has greater depth but for our purposes his friend, drummer Miles Miller just happened to know a fellow Kentuckian, Sturgill Simpson. Childers sent Simpson a bunch of songs, visited him in Nashville and a bond was formed that led to Simpson co-producing this album.

Sturgill enlisted sound engineer David Ferguson who recruited highly respected Nashville instrumentalists to form a studio band. The result is an album that showcases the best of Southern folk songs with a vibe that is contemporary without losing the traditions of mountain music.

The songs aren’t all new. Childers wrote them a while ago and has been performing them in his live shows. It’s the way of the world that it takes the association with Sturgill Simpson before we all sit and take notice. And that of course is the reality. The small stage guy can only reach the masses with the help of the ‘name’. The ‘name’ opens the doors but those doors will slam shut if the product isn’t good. Let’s let the cat out of the bag. The product is very good.

It’s authentic country music. The songs tell stories and it has the twang that you would expect from a guy who has lived hard in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

This is a semi-autobiographical reflection of his development from a guy who has sampled life’s downsides to a happily married man. Along the way we have a few vices. Hard drinking, loose women, cocaine. The usual topics that enable the blank canvas to transform into a tale worth hearing.

Simpson’s production will attract the new followers and there are moments here where the ‘Sturgill sound’ pervades. ‘Whitehouse Road’ and ‘Honky Tonk Flame’ are straight from the school of ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’.

It’s not a Sturgill album with another guy singing his lines, however. The sound is far more varied. The title track is straight up bluegrass and the opener ‘I Swear (to God)’ has dance floor potential that will please the honky tonkers.

It’s also a song that probably does more to tell what a bad ass this guy was. The opening verse…..

‘I only had a couple drinks last night
A few good hits from a elder pipe
And I must admit I had a few white lines
And I don’t know what happened’

Booze, weed and cocaine. Just another day in paradise. All in the first verse!

This is an album with the songs at the forefront. ‘Feathered Indians’ has an introduction reminiscent of Zac Brown at his best, but remains true to the native sounds of Kentucky. Childers has a worn, grizzled vibe and gives no quarter to the polished modern Nashville sounds that pervade country radio. There won’t be too many playlists that contain anything lifted from this album. I guess that this might just be to his advantage.

The direction that Tyler Childers has taken is not the direction that mainstream country music is heading. This is an album that will please the traditionalists. Great songs, great delivery and great production. This guy is an emerging talent who has made an album with the magic ingredient. It gets better every time you listen.

Graham Wharton

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