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Tyler Childers ACL
Coal may be a dying industry in Appalachia, but the region’s musical heritage remains stronger than three fingers of aged bourbon. One state in particular though, Kentucky, stands alone on the top shelf. Unfortunately most often in the news on account of a certain sinister senator, the state can rest easy knowing that its musical gifts are its greatest legacy.
Tyler Childers hails from Lawrence County, Kentucky and proves that legacy is in good hands. He channels the spirits of miners, moonshiners, hunters and hounds to create music that’s rooted in a profound sense of place. At just 28 years old he’s toured with fellow Kentuckian and songwriting legend John Prine. Sturgill Simpson, also from Kentucky, has produced both of his albums, Purgatory and Country Squire. The bluegrass state, it seems, doesn’t fuck around when it comes to cultivating songwriting talent.
Childers and his band returned to Zilker Park on October 11th for an encore performance at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. They hit the stage at 3:30 sharp Friday afternoon for a tight seven-song set that was the perfect antidote for the electronic dance music (EDM) oozing through the open grounds of the venue. Maybe I’m just old, but a little of that shit goes a long way.
Looking like a crew that could build a house, field dress an elk, drain a few beers and spin a dozen good yarns in any bar from Montana to Maine, they opened with “All Your’n”. An ode to love saturated with a soulful groove, it evoked Marvin Gaye as much as it did a redneck Romeo. Childers’ depth and versatility as a songwriter were immediately clear.
“Whitehouse Road” rode an electric rail to shift gears from love to moonshine, cocaine, and the kind of hard living that prevents a guy from getting too long in the tooth:
Get me drinking’ that moonshine
Get me higher than the grocery bill
Take my troubles to the highwall
Throw’em in the river and get your fill
We been sniffing that cocaine
Ain’t nothin’ better when the wind cuts cold
Lord it’s a mighty hard livin’
But a damn good feelin’ to run these roads
“Deadman’s Curve,” a tale of addiction and a failed relationship, shed light on the bleak reality of the opioid epidemic. It’s all fun and games until somebody robs a Walgreens or ends up too strung out to stand.
All the things you put me through
Safe to say I’m tired of you
Had our times, yeah we had a few
But where we gonna be when the pills run out
The arrangement of not only “Deadman’s Curve” but also the set at large highlighted the flexibility of Childers’ arrangements. Whereas studio cuts feature him alone on an acoustic guitar or accompanied by a banjo, a fiddle and a mandolin, fans at ACL were treated to a lineup that included electric bass, electric lead, keyboard, a pedal steel and a drum kit.
“Take My Hounds To Heaven” tackled the unambiguous decision should dogs not be allowed beyond the pearly gates.
If I can’t take my dogs to heaven
If I can’t hunt on God’s land
I’d rather load my dog box up and go to hell with all my friends
You and me both, brother.
“Honky Tonk Flame” solidified Childers’ street cred as a no bullshit troubadour.
But I got me a woman with a love so true
Darlin’ to me but that’s missus to you
“Universal Sound” came next and was unquestionably the long ball. For the penultimate number Childers exited the honky tonk highway and ventured in a more cosmic direction. Existential lyrics and spacey instrumentation reminiscent of My Morning Jacket, also from Kentucky, sent the set over the centerfield wall and left no doubt that Childers and his band mates are clean-up hitters. A rocking cover of Charlie Daniels’ “Trudy,” featuring an incredible piano solo, closed things out.
Although tempting to lazily define Childers as a country artist, it’s myopic to label him as such. However, if your experience of “country” music consists of what permeates commercial radio, allow him to enlighten you. He harkens back to a time when music was made by musicians and not manufactured by record executives looking to make a quick buck on asinine trends dictated by market research. Here today and gone in the dustbin of disposable culture tomorrow doesn’t apply to Tyler Childers. He’s in it for the long haul and he’s just getting started.
All Your'n Whitehouse Road Deadman's Curve Take My Hounds to Heaven Honky Tonk Flame Universal Sound Trudy (The Charlie Daniels Band cover)
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