You will be hard pressed to find a more anticipated release in the independent country realm in 2019 than Country Squire by Kentucky’s Tyler Childers, due out August 2nd. His first record on Sony’s RCA imprint, Tyler’s traversing the same path as his fellow Kentuckian and producer Sturgill Simpson did in his unimaginable ascent, and who knows where it could land him. It landed Sturgill Grammy nominations and awards, and an amphitheater-level draw.
Releasing songs ahead of an album is always a perilous proposition for album artists—meaning performers who don’t rely on singles and radio spots, but put their expressions in full bodies of work for the public to consider cohesively. It’s especially perilous when an album is as anticipated as Country Squire. Expectations are so hard to fill, and with Childers specifically, he’s releasing nine songs that much of his core audience has already heard live, or seen on YouTube, and some for a good while now where the first version may be the one that gets imprinted on your brain as the best.
“All Your’n” has been a fan favorite live for the last many months. Similar to one of Tyler’s signature songs from his last record, “Feathered Indians,” it’s a sincere love song delivered with soul and conviction to his wife and fellow performer Senora May. “All Your’n” is rendered that much more meaningful by the details Tyler weaves into the verses—the hunting for morel mushrooms and being hindered by road construction when all you want to do is get home to your lover, making the story feel that much more real. As a written work, “All Your’n” is as fine of an offering from Tyler Childers as any you will find.
It’s the instrument selection and arrangement of the studio version of this song that makes it come across as less than ideal. Tyler and Sturgill are correct to identify “All Your’n” as just as much a soul song as a country one at its heart, but employing a production suite that is reminiscent of Motown and Muscle Shoals with multiple keys and wah-wah guitar tends to injure the rawness and authenticity Tyler performs this song with in front of his ragtag country band, The Food Stamps.
In “All Your’n,” Tyler’s voice seems to set down in the middle of it all as opposed to being out front where it belongs, and where listeners are accustomed to it being. Performing this song live, Tyler visibly strains himself at the verses, barely playing guitar, closing his eyes, and trying to put himself in the “moment” to render the inspiration behind the song as palpable to the audience. On this studio version, Tyler’s character-rich voice almost seems strangely monotone and average, with the little inflections where his tone gives out—letting you know he’s giving it his all—getting smoothed out in the mix.
This whole 70’s-style radio pop production that was all the rage in Americana a few years ago (and still is to some) has frankly become tired and overdone. Dan Auerbach knows no different when producing albums, and used this same approach from the recent albums from Dee White and Yola. It was cool and unique when artists like Anderson East first showed up a few years ago because that sound had been lost. Now it’s commonplace, and if you want to hear soul music, you’re better off going to the source. It’s the hardscrabble crackerness of Tyler Childers that makes him so engaging. He creates his own sound, born from Appalachian old time, Kentucky bluegrass, and contemporary perspective that has made Tyler not just a favorite of throwback traditionalists, but young rural dwellers and the European market from the authenticity and vitality baked into his true-to-life tunes.
This is just one song, and this qualifier can’t be bolded and underscored enough. Also, the A&R game couldn’t be worse when it comes to labels selecting early songs to release from independent artists. These companies have no clue, and neither do the artists themselves most of the time. Released in the context of a record, “All Your’n” may come across completely different to listeners. But released naked into the world, some will take it as a seismic sonic shift from Childers, when it may just be the one song on the album that finds this neo soul mood. The first song from the album, “House Fire” was much more what people anticipate from Childers, even if it’s more a song for the wide ear, and not Tyler’s best songwriting effort.
Still, these early song releases matter. The well of anticipation for Cody Jinks’ 2018 record Lifers got poisoned by putting out songs that didn’t signal Cody’s best on the album, and colored the release negative for many when overall it was a solid effort. It’s also important to put any song or album into the greater context. “All Your’n” is still a great song from the independent perspective, and certainly from the major label realm, which Childers is now a part of. It’s just a little saddled by trying to get too cute in the studio, instead of stepping back, and letting Tyler be Childers.
1 1/2 Guns Up (6.5/10)
(Rating subject to change when heard in the context of the album)