A long-held secret for Kentucky music fans for the better part of the 2010s, Tyler Childers exploded into a household name following the release of his 2017 debut Purgatory, alongside subsequent records Country Squire, Long Violent History, Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?
To celebrate his stellar discography and ponder what’s to come, Holler has compiled a list of some - but certainly not all - of the best Tyler Childers songs.
A story about trying to hook up with his future wife of Senora May, ‘Honky Tonk Flame’ transports listeners back to the time of a young, lonely and blue Childers first became smitten for the girl who was "soft on the eyes and a hymn on the hearin'".
Quickly he realizes that she wasn’t like "them skirts you've been chasing all over town", leading him to "slow down, quit acting insane, burning my barn in this honky tonk flame".
The opening track from 2017’s Purgatory, ‘I Swear (To God)’ has Childers singing of a foggy night filled with lots of drinks, a few hits from an antler pipe and a few white lines that left him hungover and with a shiner on the eye the next day.
The story is an important one about the partying lifestyle that often accompanies live music and can at times be difficult to escape from.
A meditation on his own use of psychedelics, ‘Heart You’ve Been Tendin’’ sees one of the most chilling vocal and instrumental performances found on any Tyler Childers recording.
The song captures Childers' signature blend of country and gospel, displaying a sense of bewilderment at the eye-opening perspective that psychedelics provide.
"All that you'll take is the heart you've been tendin' / At the start or the endin' / You'll be cast in the wild / You'll either go through like you know what you're doin' / Or run around aimless and scared like a child", he sings.
Before Purgatory put him on the map, Childers went viral in the spring of 2017 with this performance of 'Nose on the Grindstone', taken from the OurVinyl Sessions.
The song touches on the opioid epidemic that has decimated Appalachia and other parts of the United States in the last decade, while pondering how well-meaning advice like “keep your nose to the grindstone and out of the pills” is easier said than done.
Equal parts about unrequited love and no-nonsense bus driver Ray Benson, ‘Bus Route’ is a coming of age story about young love, patience and discipline.
In the song, Childers’ experiences a redemption arc that sees him move from “Face-down in the gum on the floor, I was hopin' that she'd change her mind” to a smooth talker with his own pickup truck that would “take her home and if her parents weren't around, she'd bring me in and give me some” only eight years later.
This rollicking fireside anthem documents a relentless winter Childers and his wife (and fellow musician) Senora May endured while living in an elderly couple’s farmhouse; all in exchange for Childers doing manual labor around the property.
With heavy bluegrass and old-time influence, the song finds the artist paying homage to his musical roots in Eastern Kentucky.
This chilling ballad is an introspective look at how he can do better as he “shakes the frost” - or brings down his emotional walls - around those he loves.
The heartbreaking song goes on to describe his love being like the warmth of the sunrise hitting the Appalachian mountains, before reminiscing on the old Mustang he used to run on high hopes “til' they raised the price of dreams so high I couldn't pay”.
This raw cut delves into the dilapidated working conditions in Eastern Kentucky coal mines and the sacrifice of the workers within them.
These workers were putting their lives on the line every day, all while living off of bread, hope and a pool of a million tears, before finally admitting “that coal is gonna bury you”.
A testament to the power of sobriety, ‘Way of the Triune God’ dives into Childers' struggles with substance abuse and how the grounding presence of the church helped him to get through it.
From him singing “I don't need the pills you take, just to feel the spirit movin'” to “I don't need the laws of man, to tell me what I ought to do”, it’s apparent that Childers is out to do what’s best for his own well-being despite what others think.
Another love note to his wife Senora May, the song contains perhaps one of the best opening lines from Childers’ catalog; “Well my buckle makes impressions / On the inside of her thigh / There are little feathered Indians / Where we tussled through the night.”
The imagery of simple, mundane events like this are what elevate Childers' songwriting to another level.
The love for Senora May continues with 'Country Squire', the title track from his sophomore album.
The song looks back on the couple as newlyweds, when they had to move in with his parents before buying and fixing up a used camper that Childers referred to as their “country squire”.
Purgatory’s closing track explores the idea of walking through life with the one you love and discovering all of the wonder and nature around you.
The song pulls upon vivid imagery of the Appalachian mountains and religion in what is one of Childers’ most heartfelt songs written to date.
Written about a wild man full of tall tales and flat-out lies that Childers worked with for a time in Eastern Kentucky, “Whitehouse Road” has turned into one of Childers' most popular and highly requested songs.
With carefree lyrics like “Get me drinking' that moonshine / Get me higher than the grocery bill / Take my troubles to the highwall / Throw'em in the river and get your fill”
It’s easy to see why this one's such a hit.
Childers' confronts the death of George Floyd on 'Long Violent History'.
The song compares past and modern-day injustices against Black Americans to 1921’s Battle of Blair Mountain, a labor uprising led by coal miners.
He sings; “How many boys could they haul off this mountain / Shoot full of holes, cuffed, and laid in the streets / 'Til we come into town in a stark ravin' anger / Looking for answers and armed to the teeth”.
A universal love song, 'All Your’n' balances Childers’ life on the road with his love for his wife and home in Eastern Kentucky.
On the stringed medley, he professes wanting to share everything from fried morels and fine hotels with his love, before admitting; “I'll love ya 'til my lungs give out / I ain't lyin’ / I'm all your'n and you're all mine.”
Feature photography by Emma Delevante. Subscribe and listen to Holler's Best Tyler Childers Songs playlist below: