Album Reviews,  Music

Eastern Kentucky’s Tyler Childers Unleashes ‘Purgatory’

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve likely ran across an article on the latest Kentucky sensation, Tyler Childers. At the very least, you’ve seen Tyler’s name attached to another of Kentucky’s musical treasures in Sturgill Simpson. Some have even compared Tyler’s songwriting abilities to that of yet another Eastern Kentuckian in Chris Stapleton.

I’m here to set the record straight once and for all. Tyler Childers is neither of those artists. He is simply Tyler Childers. His voice is unique. His perspective fresh. His intelligence apparent. His twang is authentic. His ability to spin a yarn is second to none and he is as Kentucky as Kentucky can get.

Tyler’s storytelling is made up of equal parts darkness, free-spirited, hell-raising, Appalachian life, and loving those who deserve it…often times in the same damn song.

Tyler Childers is a name that is indeed new to many, but here in Kentucky, he has been making a name for himself for many years. Playing any and every opportunity he was given. He’s built a catalogue of songs that encapsulates the people and the struggles he has encountered along the way. He takes a look at the world around him, finds his place in it and poetically paints an audible canvas that relates to most anyone who listens.

There’s a lot of church in Tyler’s voice and I don’t gospel. The twisting of syllables is something you will often times find in smaller churches in Eastern Kentucky. Many churches, like the Old Regular Baptist, sing hymns without any accompaniment. The singers are often times not great at what they do, but their passion, love and worship evokes something deep down in your soul. Tyler has captured that essence and polished it into something incredibly unique. His voice truly does feel like his is the voice of our people.

If I were to compare Tyler to anyone, it would lean more towards another Eastern Kentuckian (and distant relative of mine) in Roscoe Holcomb. Roscoe too captured the spirit of the church. In fact, his voice is the voice that inspired the term “High Lonesome Sound”, which is so often tied to bluegrass music. Tyler is a much more polished vocalist than the self-taught Roscoe, but you can certainly hear traces of his cadence within Tyler’s writing and I believe both men owe that very much to the church.

By now, you’re likely wondering what in the hell all of that has to do with Tyler’s album, ‘Purgatory’. I’d like to make the argument that everything above is what makes the foundation of this record, as well as who Tyler is as a person.

There’s plenty of hell-raising and even drug use on tracks like “I Swear To God” and “Whitehouse Road”. There’s an internal search for peace on tracks like “Universal Sound” and even the title track, “Purgatory”. The latter of which weaves a religious tapestry of a misguided youth feeling he is so lost that his only chance at salvation is the off-chance a Catholic gal can get him a shot at “Purgatory”. It’s that kind of introspective honesty that makes this record so damn relatable.

Years provide wisdom and there are tracks that show how Tyler has grown into a multi-faceted songwriter. He has a tender side that is very evident in his dixified love ballad to Senora May, aptly titled, “Lady May”. It’s also present in my personal favorite track on the album, “Feathered Indians”.

I’ve seen many arguments that this album isn’t cohesive or the flow isn’t right. That’s total nonsense if you look at the album as I’ve presented it. You must first understand the artist before you tackle his songs, at least in an incidence with an artist as unique and genuine as Tyler Childers.

For me, having an album so diverse is a blessing. Name another album in the last twenty years that has a murder ballad (“Banded Clovis”), a straight up bluegrass track, (“Purgatory”), a honky tonk romp, (“Honky Tonk Flame”), a Steve Earle-esque outlaw country track (“Whitehouse Road”), a gentle ballad (“Lady May”) and a spaced-out look at finding balance in life (“Universal Sound”). Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Didn’t think so.

Listen, if you are an honest, hard working, fun loving, genuine person you will find many things to relate to on this album. If you’re none of the above, you don’t deserve this gift anyways.

Do your part and support the arts. Buy this album. Don’t steal it. And if you have to stream it, don’t do it on YouTube. Support the artists or lose the art.