Kentucky troubadour Tyler Childers is fast on his way to becoming one of country music’s most accomplished miniaturists. His body of work now includes three studio albums that are admirably economical and restrained, 35-minute run times suggesting a classicist approach; meanwhile, his songwriting style puts him in the tradition of the great American short story, little moments and seemingly trivial details giving away grander emotional truths. His latest record, Country Squire, reunites him with producer Sturgill Simpson, and is the most exquisitely detailed album he’s yet made. Baroque is too strong a word, perhaps, but there’s an undeniably rich level of ornamentation to what are essentially hard country songs.
The title track opens with galloping drums, moaning country steel, and sawing fiddles, a traditional palette that Childers and Sturgill reconfigure in surprising ways: “Gemini” is as jaunty as a barn dance and as twangy as a saloon song, while “House Fire” might as well be a ghost story, for all its dark incantations. Clearly Childers puts a premium on sly eclecticism, and he unfurls his virtuosity so organically that you won’t bat an eye when the album arrives at “All Your’n,” irresistible country-soul. His writing is just as unfussy and just as sharp. The title track is a working-class love song that makes its case through sensory details; Childers locates it just downwind of the paper mill, precisely evocative of small-town malaise. “Ever Lovin’ Hand” contemplates the tragedy of distance; the narrator remembers his beloved not just with his heart, he tells us, but also with the bottle of lotion he finds in the motel. As far as sensitive country songs about masturbation, you can put it on the shelf with Lucinda Williams’ “Right in Time.” And you’ll just have to listen to “Bus Route” to discover how Childers makes it from a childhood remembrance to a dead body getting eaten up by hogs; as ever, the real pleasure is in the details.
Published as part of Rooted & Restless | Issue 5