Album Review – El Dorodo’s “Unincorporated”
Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and appreciate that we’re living through an era in country music that future generations will look back upon with awe and envy. Not dissimilar to how Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings rewrote the rules of country music and opened it up creatively during the mid 70s Outlaw movement, what’s happening right now with earnest songwriters such as Tyler Childers and Zach Bryan is rewriting the expectations for artists outside of the Music Row system.
For Tyler Childers, part of that story is his backing band The Food Stamps, and it’s a story that really hasn’t been told, or told in-depth. The nucleus of the band is guitarist James Barker, bass player (and head bobber) Craig Burletic, and drummer Rod Elkins. They all went to school together at Cabell Midland High School in West Virginia, just over the border from Tyler’s home in Kentucky. Craig Burletic and Rod Elkins also went to college together at Marshall and earned Jazz degrees.
Before Tyler Childers ever came into the picture, the three were playing in a band called Deadbeats and Barkers, which according to the local paper, was an original roots rock band. The first paid gig Tyler Childers ever played was opening for them at a bar called Shoop’s in Huntington, West Virginia. It took another four years before the two outfits joined forces officially, with Tyler Childers starting to call them The Food Stamps somewhere around 2013.
This new album isn’t titled under The Food Stamps, or Deadbeats and Barkers though. Pairing with performer Doug Woodward, the group of old school buddies are calling themselves El Dorodo, and depending on who you talk to, they’ve been around for at least a few years. It’s one of those bands people love to tell you they knew about before you did, but the band itself has been keeping any official information or origin story rather nebulous, choosing to instead to keep the public guessing and on their toes. Either way, they surprise released a new album on January 27th called Unincorporated.
Not meant to be taken entirely seriously, but not completely sarcastic either, Unincorporated is a classic country album that is written and performed to very much emulate classic country songs, but served with just a dash of absurdity as to not be mistaken as genuine or sincere. With a deadpan delivery, the boys play off of country clichés in a way that’s not exactly comedy or parody. It’s too subtle for that realm. But if you also mistaken it as completely straightforward, then you’re the ultimate rube.
The songs and even some of the specific lines are slightly altered facsimiles of classic country tropes. The creativity of the work is in the nuance of how this material is delivered. Almost knowing that they will not be able to rise to the quality of the classics, they instead embrace their limitations, and pay tribute to classic country in their own silly, but still somewhat reverent way. This is no Wheeler Walker. It is closer to the more nuanced moments of Ween’s 12 Golden Country Greats performed by guys who grew up on classic country.
Rod Elkins never gets enough credit for being the primary harmony singer for Tyler Childers on tour, and a good one. But he’s probably best as a harmony singer. Doug Woodward also has a bit of a nasally, and not naturally beautiful or distinctive voice. They’re not bad singers, but again, self-awareness of these shortfalls is why the music of El Dorodo is served with just enough tongue-in-cheek to make it interesting. For what the band is trying to do here, their voices actually work.
The music is always solid on Unincorporated, and though in certain respects the writing is cheesy and cliché, that doesn’t mean it’s simplistic. They give the audience something to unravel here. Also, to this set of ears, the best songs are the final two tracks, and the creepy, but well-done “Like The Others.” Still though, if you ask yourself if there are superior records out there being released to this in country music, especially in such a crowded era, the answer is probably “yes.”
But what makes this project important to highlight and remark on is during this era of Tyler Childers dominance, elements of El Dorodo have played a major role. Remember, producer Sturgill Simpson circumvented using The Food Stamps on the Tyler Childers records Purgatory and Country Squire, with some longtime Childers fans crying foul.
It’s hard to talk about Waylon and Willie and not mention Billy Joe Shaver. You can’t talk about the Grateful Dead’s country era without mentioning New Riders of the Purple Sage. The Food Stamps have played an important role in this era of country music, and El Dorodo is their stamp and contribution to it directly. It’s peculiar and probably not for everyone, though that’s part of the point. And even if it’s not meant to be totally serious, that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7/10)
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Purchase from El Dorodo
February 8, 2023 @ 11:39 am
Call me crazy but I think these guys were the root of the problem with Tyler’s last record…
February 8, 2023 @ 11:54 am
I think that’s a bit unfair to these guys.
But I will say, there should have been someone in the room to say to Tyler, “Dude, you’re one of the biggest things in all of country music at the moment. Spend more than 48 hours in the studio. Record and release ALL the religious-themed songs you have for this project. You can’t just release four new original songs and charge people $60 for the vinyl package.”
Sometimes producers and label reps cracking a whip over you are your friends. What’s even more frustrating is that any opposition to the album has been cast off as the cries of Morgan Wallen fans wanting Tyler to record ‘Whitehouse Road” over and over, so my guess is Tyler & Co. aren’t receiving the constructive feedback that could be very useful to them moving forward.
February 8, 2023 @ 12:12 pm
“But I will say, there should have been someone in the room to say to Tyler, “Dude, you’re one of the biggest things in all of country music at the moment. Spend more than 48 hours in the studio.”
Take a note from Sturg, on the Brit Taylor, Cabin In The Woods.
Back up, already – let the magic happen
February 8, 2023 @ 1:42 pm
Yeah that’s really the most frustrating part, he has a back catalog of so many outstanding songs he’s never recorded, not to mention all the ones we’ve never heard, just collecting dust. He could’ve capitalized so heavily on this double album trend that’s so big right now. Get in there with a producer who knows what he’s doing and isn’t a yes man, and spend the time to get all of those songs recorded, and recorded right, on a giant album while you’re still in your prime. It would’ve been not just the biggest album of the year, but one of the biggest albums in the history of country music. But instead all we’ve gotten since Purgatory is a tiny 9 song “album”, an “album” of amateur renditions of fiddle tunes, and an “album” of weirdly produced butcherings of songs, only four of which were new. He’s misstepped so heavily that he’s allowed Zach Bryan, who is by no means more talented than him, to completely pass him up as the king of the independent country scene. With all of that said, maybe this is just in Tyler’s nature, the same thing that caused him to go 6 years without putting out an album after “Hard Times”, and maybe that’s what makes him so great. But still, it doesn’t make it any less easy to become frustrated with him as the disappointments stack.
February 8, 2023 @ 3:23 pm
I don’t think any producer will get that out of Tyler. He’s not an album artist and has little use for recorded music. With the return a fraction of pennies, why should he? He values the concert experience and the return he sees on his investment when people buy concert tickets. I believe that’s why he hasn’t recorded some of his best music – concert staples – to date (save the best for the concert experience).
Also, more than any other country music artist not named Billy Strings, Childers utilizes nuts.net to stream most of his concerts. I believe he gets a better return on streaming concerts than streaming music.
February 8, 2023 @ 3:31 pm
Tyler Childers has easily made seven figures, going on eight off his recorded music. The idea that you can’t make money off of recorded music anymore is a canard perpetrated by artists with no fans. Granted, contributing songwriters have a hard time making a living off of royalties, but this has always been the case. Ask Dave Macias at Thirty Tigers, who released “Purgatory.” This is one of his greatest pet peeves. He sees the numbers, and knows this is not the case. Even if it was, I don’t understand how that would explain “Take My Hounds to Heaven.”
February 9, 2023 @ 6:45 am
Even if he is not making money from albums, which I think he is, the purpose of making the album is to retain your fans interest, and to gain new fans interest. If he continues to let that area of the business wane, then eventually he will see a decline in those interested in watching him play live. The two are interconnected.
February 8, 2023 @ 1:52 pm
After fleshing all this out last week, I’m more in the camp with Steers & Antlers. It makes sense now why Sturgill circumvented using The Food Stamps on Purgatory and Country Squire and the sudden inde-rock/ experimental direction of Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven.
Maybe Tyler literally saved the remaining religious in theme songs he was touring on for a more traditional album down the road perhaps to be recorded without The Food Stamps (The Travelin’ McCourys).
I do feel differently about The Foodstamps as a backing outfit than I did a couple weeks ago.
February 8, 2023 @ 3:34 pm
It’s Tyler’s name on the front of “Take My Hounds to Heaven,” not The Food Stamps. If you don’t like the playing, that’s one thing. But this was Tyler’s record, and his decision to try to turn four songs in 24. Where they might have been culpable is saying, “Dude, just put out a 10-song album. You have enough material, even if it’s religious stuff.” But ultimately, Tyler is the boss.
February 8, 2023 @ 5:13 pm
Purgatory is a generational album with an astonishing long run on the charts. Take that album out of the equation, I know Tyler would have made a fraction of those seven figures. Does he have another Purgatory in him? Maybe. But, he certainly not trying.
Meanwhile, all day long I’ve been hearing reports about the hundreds of dollars Bonnie Raitt will make off of her 12,000% Grammy spike… hundreds.
Estill County Crackerjack
February 8, 2023 @ 7:55 pm
A couple things. Tyler is very much control of anything that is released with his name on it. Anyone that knows him at all will tell you the same.
Most of those old songs aren’t unrecorded, they just aren’t released. He has a couple of unreleased albums that will hopefully see the light of day sometime.
February 8, 2023 @ 11:50 am
Actually it’s not too terrible! (insert tongue in cheek) Diggin’ the retro sound and feel of these two songs. Will certainly check out the remaining songs on the album to see if the songs bear repeated listens.
February 8, 2023 @ 11:52 am
It’s a big ole nope for me.
February 8, 2023 @ 11:56 am
I would rather listen to serious music. Love these boys though. Wish them well. But this is a hard pass.
February 8, 2023 @ 12:19 pm
I’ve seen Tyler and the Food Stamps a few times. The first time was in Charlotte, they were opening for Colter Wall a few weeks after “Purgatory” came out. In my opinion, Tyler is a transcendent supernova of a performer. His solo portion was incredible and captivating. The Food Stamps are good, but certainly not equal to a supernova. I love that they groove and the band’s cover of “Trudy” at that show was awesome, but I don’t know that they are equals. Iron sharpens iron, right? I feel like that is what is missing. Not that my opinion matters.
February 8, 2023 @ 2:00 pm
I think this album is a fun listen, with great songs.
“Unincorporated is a classic country album that is written and performed to very much emulate classic country songs, but served with just a dash of absurdity as to not be mistaken as genuine or sincere. ”
IDK. I think there is a little bit of humor in some of the song writing and delivery of the lead vocals, but for some reason this statement comes across too strong to me and misleading on what the album is.
I hear the same vibe in a lot of Tyler tunes and dare I say John Prine as well.
If I get a chance to see these guys doing this live, I am not going to miss it.
February 8, 2023 @ 3:42 pm
There is a whole other thread here that I took out of the review because it bogged it down. But there is definitely a prevailing culture surrounding everything Tyler Childers that wants to present everything as one big joke, and you’re not in on it, because you’re not as cool as they are. It’s the whole “Eatin’ Big Time” thing. It’s a series of inside jokes that only the tellers can ultimately find funny, and everyone else is a chode. Was definitely feeling this energy around the release of “Take My Hounds To Heaven” when long time, dedicated fans were feeling let down, and were being chided as racists and morons for not understanding Tyler’s incredible creativity. There is definitely that “cool kids” element to this album as well. They purposely make things nebulous, and then laugh at you when you don’t get it.
That said, there is a creative element to this nuanced presentation that keeps the audience on its toes that is interesting and an element of performance art that you can’t cast off as meaningless. How to present this in the words of a review is a challenge.
February 8, 2023 @ 3:50 pm
Something seems amiss, which is maybe on purpose. To me, I start to enjoy a song, and then it goes in a direction that makes me ask “Why?” Maybe I need to give Sturgill more credit as a producer since he circumvented the Food Stamps with regards to Tyler. I wish Sturgill would have stayed with Dave Cobb for at least Sailor’s if for nothing else to hear how Dave would have used the horns. Ohh well, gotta move on from 2016.
February 8, 2023 @ 6:49 pm
I’m sorry, but the singer sounds like a drunk guy at a karaoke bar
February 9, 2023 @ 6:51 am
When you mentioned this album before I said I had seen the album before without knowing who they were. I thought the album had some good sounds, but the vocals left me thinking it was almost good, but just not enough to interest me. Finding out who they were, I went for another listen. Honestly, I came away with the same result. Almost good.
February 9, 2023 @ 3:17 pm
I think the singing sounds a little like Joshua Hedley, but a little less crisp and clean. At least starting off the first song (“Tell Me Why”).
I love Joshua Hedley’s singing, so slightly worse version of that works okay for me too.
February 9, 2023 @ 10:39 pm
but served with just a dash of absurdity as to not be mistaken as genuine
Good to know cause nobody wants genuine country