What does it sound like?:
Bluegrass, straight from Kentucky, traditional fiddle tunes and songs in their style.
Tyler Childers is an interesting character. Kentucky born and bred, long times of living hand to mouth as he developed his craft. Call him folk, call him country, just don’t call him Americana as he really gets the shits. His argument is that country music is often criticised for enough innovaion but when they do it gets a new label – ie Americana. He’s got a point.
Anyway the latest hotshot Americana artist started the way of many in a country/ folk oeuvre. Think early Loudon Wainwright III or wistful Jason Isbell ( he shared bills with JI and covered some of his songs) just with a bit more high and lonesome in the voice. The Bible and the bottle were fighting on the floor encapsulates the thematics of this period. As he develops more instrumentation and we hear the fiddle getting more prominence. Purgatory from 2017 is regarded as his breakout album and we are heading more into a Zac Brown sound .On the title track it seems the bible is still fighting with the bottle.
I know that Hell
Is just as real as I am surely breathin’
But I’ve heard tale
Of a middle ground, I think will work for me
When the time has come for changin’ worlds
I’ll hedge my bets with a Catholic girl
Catholic girl, pray for me
You’re my only hope for Heaven
But the tortured soul theme has to share the stage with carousing smokin, snortin and drinkin. This red head is giving me Nathaniel Rateliff flashbacks. He cranks it up some more in 2019 with Country Squire, named after a bus he and hiswife and fellow musician Senora May Lainhart lived in. It’s a slick great sounding record full of hot playing and the fiddle is like salt to flavour. It highlights the melody and Tyler’s voice is stronger and more melodious. I should add Sturgil Simpson has produced a lot of his stuff, played with him and is a great supporter. Great reviews, tours, awards – it’s all up.
So what is next ?
In the last 8 months Tyler has acknowledged his alcoholism and gone on the wagon. Hair trimmed, on the gaunt side, pale, red head – he is looking like someone from 100 years ago.
Funny I should say that.
His latest record could well have come from 100 years ago or supplied the soundtrack for Ken Burns’ American Civil War series. Childers originally intended to release it unexplained and see what the world made of it. Then it was decided some context was required. More on this in a moment.
The artwork is very old world and you can even buy a vinly at 78rpm. So Tyler is going back in time and from a lyrically strong artist all but one track are instrumentals – traditional fiddle tunes in the main or songs of that ilk.
I love airs and reels ,I love fiddles and one of my favourite songs is Midnight On The Water as performed by David Bromberg on the album of the same name. It’s on this record as are other civil war era fiddle tunes such as Bonaparte’s Retreat and Squirrel Hunt.There is some Bill Monroe and, curiously, a version of Send In the Clowns( barely identifiable) as the opener. If you don’t like fiddles -walk away now. But these aren’t overly busy, the melody rules.Childers has apparently mastered the fiddle ahead of the recording and the others are crack players. But it is all about the build up to the last track which is written by Childers – Long Violent History. This one has lyrics. Childers is appalled by the way things are in America and in particular the tough time African Americans have had and still have. So Childers has followed a couple of breakout country rock albums with a 30 minute collection of instrumental fiddle tunes recorded in Kentucky climaxing in a pro African American political statement.
A big call.
On top of this Tyler Childers recorded a video encouraging his fellow Kentuckians to ,essentialy, walk a mile in the shoes of the oppressed and brutalised African Americans who have been subjected to a long and violent history. As you can imagine this has received some attention in the green hills of his home State.
What does it all *mean*?
Hats off to those artists who have struggled for success, who have it in their grasp but can push it aside for their beliefs and for their love of the music at the very core of their being.
Goes well with…
A Kentucky bourbon of course.
Might suit people who like…
Country, bluegrass, fiddles, waltzes, reels.