There was a time in the 70’s and 80’s when those who were frustrated by the commercialism of Nashville were marginalised in what some called ‘outlaw country’. Whilst it didn’t necessarily do any harm to the careers of so-called ‘outlaws’ such as Waylon Jennings or Johnny Cash, their kind tended to get less of the spotlight in the years that followed with Nashville re-establishing its grip. However, I’m pleased to find that there’s a real resurgence in the world of Americana music that has non-Nashville roots.
Coming out of Kentucky, Tyler Childers has been making waves with his debut record, ‘Purgatory’. Of course, it has helped to get fellow Kentuckian, Grammy Award winning Sturgill Simpson on board for co-production duties but there’s more to this record than the involvement of such musically prominent pals. It’s a sophisticated recording that seems to be autobiographical whether in charting the darker moments of life or hinting at the love that throws some light in there.
That latter is mostly done in a love song, the acoustic performance of ‘Lady May’ that closes the album and seals the view that Childers is one fine songwriter. Before we reach this sunshine moment, there’s plenty more to enjoy whether that’s the honky tonk swing of ‘I Swear (To God)’ or the back porch bluegrass of the title track itself. Tracks that flag the variety of style that you’ll get from what is a mature debut for someone so early into their career.
Particular highlights are ‘Whitehouse Road’ with a production that has the Sturgill Simpson feel all over it and ‘Tattoos’ which has an aching vocal style that fans of Steve Earle will particularly like. Elsewhere, his lyrical flair is to the fore on ‘Feathered Indians’ where a dalliance with a clean living woman causes embarrassment and joy to the rough and tumble protagonist who finds his ‘heart is sweating bullets’.
Yes, it’s a record full of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll but nobody has an exclusive right to that territory. What is for certain is that Tyler Childers talks heartaches by the number and troubles by the score but the talent on show with his debut record is going to catch many an ear.