Tyler Childers & ‘Purgatory’ On a Huge Run, Breaks Sales Barrier

photo: Brad Coolidge

Every few years or so, an album in country music will emerge whose influence is so rich, its success so undeniable, and its relevancy and appeal so universal, it can’t be held back, and it ends up getting stuck in both the album charts, and in people’s listening rotations to the point where it is perennial, and its importance is undeniable. Purgatory by Tyler Childers released now three years ago last week is one of those records.

This is not to overlook or diminish the more recent Tyler Childers record Country Squire, which is also doing well. But it’s nowhere near the level of Purgatory, and it’s not even really close. And what also makes this case so unusual is Tyler Childers doesn’t see any significant mainstream radio play. He didn’t get a big boost from an awards show like Chris Stapleton and his debut record Traveller, which is also one of these once-in-a-lifetime records that isn’t going away. Tyler Childers isn’t even touring right now, or even making any appearances on late night talk shows, or doing live streams from the couch. Purgatory just sells.

Just this last week, the three-year-old Purgatory sold an equivalent 8,000 copies, and the individual songs from the record were streamed 8.2 million times. That’s good enough to put it at #12 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, while in comes in at #5 in physical sales/downloads. To put that in perspective, that is a better performance than the most recent records from mainstream names such as Jason Aldean, Kane Brown, Florida Georgia Line, Miranda Lambert, Dan + Shay, Thomas Rhett, and others, all of which were released much more recently than Purgatory, and that includes factoring in streaming of big radio hits.

For years we’ve been seeing independent artists upstage the country charts on their debut weeks—folks like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Aaron Watson, Whiskey Myers, Blackberry Smoke, and Tyler Childers with Country Squire which debuted at #1 when it was released in August of 2019 as well. And no offense to these albums and artists at all with this accomplishment. But often the next week, these album fall like a rock, propped up by presales and critical buzz, but ultimately unable to compete on a weekly basis with the mainstream for obvious reasons.

But this is what makes the Purgatory run so unprecedented. In fact, its performance only continues to improve. It has been drifting in and out of the Top 20 for a while now. But recently, it’s been drifting slowly upward. The previous week (7-30 chart) it was at #16 with 7,500 in equivalent sales, and 8 million song streams. The week before that (7-23 chart), it was at #16 with 7,300 in equivalent sales, and 7.8 million songs streams. The week before that (7-16 chart) it was at #18 with 7,100 in album equivalents, and 7.5 million streams. In other words, Tyler Childers has been trending up over the last month, and with no real catalyst aside for the appeal of the music.

Meanwhile where does Country Squire fit, just for context? Last week the record was at #77, with 3,200 in equivalent sales, and 3.1 million song streams, so less than half of what Purgatory is doing. Hey, this is not a knock on Country Squire. That’s still a satisfactory performance for a non mainstream artist. Jason Isbell’s new 2020 album Reunions which debuted at #1 has dropped out of the Top 100 entirely, and did shortly after its release. It’s Purgatory‘s performance that is exceptional, and seems to be putting it on a path to becoming one of those records that goes on to define the sound of a generation.

And in another sign of the success of Purgatory, two weeks ago the album reached the symbolic plateau of crossing over into sales of half a million. It’s at 518,972 albums and streaming equivalents at the moment to be exact. That means it will be Certified Gold shortly, and is headed to being Certified Platinum, after the song “Feathered Indians” already went Gold in February.

The next question is, where does Purgatory go from here? There’s sure to be bumps in the road, and the higher you climb in charts, the harder it is to gain ground and maintain it. But as we have seen with Chris Stapleton’s Traveller, when you have a record like this, sometimes there is no time limit, or shelf life. Tyler Childers and Purgatory are very much saving country music in real time, and there’s no sign of it slowing down anytime soon.

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