With Country Squire, Childers solidifies his status as one of country’s vital young songwriters.
Since breaking through with Purgatory in 2017, Tyler Childers has become one of the important voices in country music. Or at least one of the important voices in eastern Kentucky Appalachia. It seems to be an important point, partly as a commercial hook but actually because of the precision with which Childers writes. He’s spoken against the term “Americana,” and if that term has become too much of a catch-all, Childers knows enough to sink into his country heritage on Country Squire, focused on exactly where he’s from and the world that he can so particularly develop.
That specificity serves Childers well. He’s not from rural America; he’s from Lawrence County, KY, and he brings the area’s morels (not just mushrooms) to us. “Bus Route” takes us back to his youth, where his early attempts at romance were foiled and Ray Dixon used “a paddle that he carved from pine” to keep unruly kids in line. Thinking over hog farms and protective dads, Childers puts us exactly into his childhood with a corner of a smile and the whispers of nostalgia creeping in.
It’s fitting, though, that Childers sets one of his songs about home on a bus, because the album focuses on the life on the road. He takes to stages and trains and hotel rooms across the country, recognizing both his love of being a musician and the challenges of putting down roots while keeping on the move. The theme risks cliché; every other artists puts out an album like this once they’ve been on the road too long. Childers has his own charm, even in the self-gratifying “Ever Lovin’ Hand,” which plays as an odd little love letter. The slightly spacey “All Your’n” could have been a blue-collar ballad – most of the lyrics would play well enough as a song about a commute – by Childers heads to a Days Inn and reminds us of his need to tour.
The title track reveals the album’s heart. Childers remains on the road, but now he sings, “Spending my nights in a bar room, Lord/ Turnin’ them songs into two-by-fours.” His work and his time away from his love should lead toward him establishing a home, both a family and a physical presence, in this case one built around “a 53-year-old camper.” Childers’ tight writing elevates the song, picking out details of his day that move us in and out of his home as his thoughts come and go.
With Country Squire, Childers solidifies his status as one of country’s vital young songwriters. His outlaw country blended with some honky tonk, folk and bluegrass never stumbles, and the sharp production by David Ferguson and Sturgill Simpson delivers a clean but not too polished sound. The album coheres around the musician-on-the-road theme, but could maybe do with one fewer reminder that the music we’re hearing is being played by a musician. Childers has managed to find his own niche while fitting into a broader scene, and as good as the album is on its own, it’s the sound of a gifted artist still working toward his peak.