Tyler Childers Delivers Everything You Want on “Country Squire”

Tyler Childers is the greatest artist in country music at the moment, mainstream or independent, on the radio off, major label or otherwise. And soon, if there is any justice in this ragged old life, the rest of the world will know this to be true as well. Tyler’s new album Country Squire should be a breakthrough achievement, and is everything you hoped and wanted from his major label debut, despite the worry that washed over many faces due to the early songs released from the record, and noisy naysayers who are always quick to turn coat against anything that becomes popular.

Country Squire is country music to its core. Country Squire is a collection of songs worthy of critical acclaim. Country Squire may be the high water for the career of Tyler Childers thus far, only fair to question due to the quality of his last record Purgatory and his previous releases as well. Country Squire feels like an achievement and a victory for independent country fans. But whatever you do, don’t call it Americana.

In some ways the release of Country Squire presented a trap for Tyler Childers and his long time fans. When expectations range so high like they did for this record, letdown becomes a very real possibility regardless of the quality of the eventual release, if it’s not outright inevitable. If you consume everything “Tyler Childers” you can get your hands on, including fan videos from recent concerts, then you’ve probably already heard or seen most or all of the songs from Country Squire before, and may have fallen in love with those earlier versions, raw and in the live context. Since Tyler Childers became a headliner so quickly and has been touring so hard, he dipped into his new material pretty deep ahead of this release.

Then of course you have the diehards and purists who allow their opinions to putrefy on anything that emanates from a major label or can be construed as “popular.” Those people can kiss off of course, but their opinion sharing can additionally cloud the public’s judgement on and impending release. And none of this delves into the two songs released ahead of Country Squire—the energetic, but simple and straightforward “House Fire” where Tyler’s vocals sounded a little too down in the mix, and the highly questionable production all the way around of “All Your’n.” Even some of the psychedelic and drug imagery preceding the release was off putting to some, swinging their opinions on this record from highly anticipated, to expecting to be let down.

Five seconds into Country Squire, and not only are all your worries resolved, all is right in the country music world. The raw Kentucky sound and songwriting fills your ear canals like supple graces of angelic manna. The authenticity drips from the tracks. The instrumentation is adept, but steeped in that raw, mountain music sound that is true to Tyler Childers. This record is even more Kentucky than Tyler’s previous record Purgatory, if that’s possible.

That’s not to say Country Squire is without imagination and inventiveness though, or is unwilling to take a few risks. The record presents itself as a “song cycle,” meaning it’s meant to be heard as a cohesive unit, cover to cover, and in the order the tracks are presented to stimulate the synchronous and immersive experience its creators intended. With Sturgill Simpson as producer along with David Ferguson, you shouldn’t be surprised at this outcome. Of course anyone can run track times together and employ some instrumental interludes between songs. It takes mastery and imagination to pull it off well. Country Squire is graced with that enviable attribute, making it hard to not lose yourself in this record.

Everyone who was drawing negative conclusions from the first couple of songs released—despite the warnings by Saving Country Music and others—should be happy to admit their trepidation was presumptive. Nobody in the record business these days seems to know how to pick the best songs from albums for pre-release. Sure, taken autonomously, “All Your’n” still feels like somewhat of an anomaly (read review), and along with “House Fire,” they might present the two weakest tracks on the entire record. But in the context of the album itself, both are more forgivable, or understandable, or maybe even advantageous because they help build some texture into an otherwise very country record.

The scratchy, distressed production of Country Squire will still turn some off, and audiophiles will probably find something to complain about in the mix and mastering phase of this effort as they always do. But the approach also fits the raw and live aspect of the Tyler Childers sound. You don’t just hear these songs, you feel them, you smell them. They’re dripping in goat’s blood, brought down from the holler in a stolen station wagon, were stored away in the crawlspace under a singewide where the methheads can’t find them until they were ready to be revealed. They come from Tyler’s “country squire” … humble, but proud, and riddled with character like buckshot to the back of a rural stop sign.

But it all comes down to the songs. That is why we’re here talking about Tyler Childers. Not Sturgill Simpson nor anyone else could ruin these songs even if they wanted to, any anyone who allows names they don’t like to get in the way of music they should is failing as a music fan. True authenticity is a myth in modern country music … until you hear Tyler Childers. If you don’t like this record, you don’t like country music.

The era of bellyaching about the inequity that independent-minded artists face in country music is not over just yet, but it continues to be significantly compromised due to the success of artists like Tyler Childers. No longer can their contributions be scoffed at as inconsequential when they’re selling out tours and topping album charts, often testing and even besting the sales impact of many mainstream Music Row upstarts to the point that when the major labels do come calling, your favorite independent country artists can sign a deal on their own terms, keeping their creative license, and walking away with a handsome stack of cash.

Placing the burden of “country music savior” on the shoulders of anyone is presumptive an unfair. It was unfair and presumptive when some assigned that to Sturgill Simpson. But unquestionably, Tyler Childers and an album like Country Squire go a long way in the effort to help save country music.

Two Guns Up (9/10)

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Purchase Tyler Childers’ Country Squire