June 29, 2017
Tyler Childers – Purgatory
Purgatory by Tyler Childers will be another candidate for those crowded end of year lists. Whilst Americana will claim him then this is proper Country before auto tune, rehab, radio and the major labels sanitised it. It is saturated with violins, guitars, banjo and tunes to die for. There is a lot of music out there to catch your ear but Childers, helped no end by the production of Sturgill Simpson and sound engineer, par excellence, David Ferguson, has been helped to release a fabulous record that show cases his talent brilliantly and hopefully this will put it above the rest on people’s play lists.
Sturgill Simpson is the latest Americana bright light after having won awards for his last album A Sailor’s Guide To The Earth and his association is quite an affirmation of Childers potential. Not only does his experience and talent come to the fore behind the desk but he brings along his band to play.
Childer’s has paid his dues and these songs drip with life’s experiences and make for heartfelt stories that tell you about his early rebellious and often dissolute lifestyle. Like Simpson he hails from east Kentucky, a land of densely wooded hillsides, semi-trailer trucks hauling coal on narrow roads and no little deprivation. His picture of life comes against this backdrop and makes for a compelling listen.
He started singing “Feathered Indians” in 2014 as he made his living playing small venues but in 2017 it makes it onto disc. This lilting acoustic guitar melody, complimented by violin, is an awkward love song, possibly reminding you of Jason Isbell, Ray LaMontagne or James McMurtry, of a man who starts to emerge from wayward ways to see that something is worth reforming for:
“Looking over West Virginia smoking spirits on the roof
She asked ‘ain’t anybody told you that them things are bad for you?’
I said ‘many folks have warned me, there’s been several people try
But up until now there ain’t been nothing that I couldn’t leave behind”
The voice is his passport to stardom – demanding, tuneful, expressive and with a smidgeon of loud ‘Outlaw’ edge. “Honky Tonk Flame’, a straight down the line traditional Country song, pulls all this together and we have the troubadour drifting from bar to bar and suddenly finding ‘the love of a woman was all that he needs’; with this anchor then he’s more complete but:
“Still on the road ‘cause I ain’t good for nothing
Except writing the songs that I sing
Beating them strings like their owing me money
And chasing that honky tonk flame”
“Whitehouse Road” has that Steve Earle country rock chug and yet more talk of ‘running these roads’ with moonshine along the back roads of Kentucky. A belter of a track that really benefits from Simpson’s band behind him.
Like so many of these artists he is out on the road and even makes it to London in July playing some minor venue there. There is no easy way to fame but I’ve slowly pedalled up the rolling hills of east Kentucky, looking for predatory dogs (!), and seen the economic challenges and the schools proclaiming they are ‘drug free zones’. Not a place that has an easy future ahead. It may suggests that this is a new arduous route worth taking.
Purgatory, I feel, is the closing of a chapter. He sees his youthful path as full of missteps forming him but out of the darkness comes the hope. Childers and this album deserve a big future.