By Soda Canter
On Purgatory, Childers allows his point of view to dwell in a space of conflict. The results are beautifully complicated, thought-provoking and, at times, flawed.
The layered shape that graces the cover of Tyler Childers’ Purgatory serves as both a nod to his hometown of Paintsville, Kentucky and as a striking representation of the textured stories within. Much like the record itself, the cover emphasizes the idea that looking from different points of a single matter can often deepen understanding of the subject itself.
Throughout the album, Childers is playing a game of tug of war; attempting to settle into the stabilizing space an adult in love is afforded, all while being pulled back to his lived experiences as a country wildling. Yet, under the careful watch of producers Sturgill Simpson and David R. Ferguson, Childers never loses his treasured grit, instead learning to expand it into new territories. In doing so, he succeeds in aptly portraying each stage of a life fully lived.
The swinging ‘I Swear (To God)’ simplifies the trappings of a hard-edged life, yet scratches at the regretful blister of a post-white line night. This notion of duality leads well into the gorgeously laid ‘Feathered Indians’, where Childers wants to toss it all aside but needs to know the intentions of his lover. He continues to acknowledge past regrets on the slow-burning ‘Tattoo’ and question the phases of life on the lyrically underdeveloped ‘Born Again’.
Childers excels most when he interrupts his outlaw sensibilities to embrace all sides of his being, particularly that side that questions his spirituality. It proves equally intense; album standout ‘Whitehouse Road’ is a fire-breathing classic, his voice devouring its unignorable rally cry for those who can't resist the call of the wild. On the other side, ‘Banded Clovis’ is an extremist fable, framing the church-clapping search for grace of the title track in concern for the human condition.
Childers’ talent lies in experimenting with new sounds and lyrical structures while never sacrificing his point of view. While the smokey production and Childers’ punch-drunk delivery of ‘Honky Tonk Flame’ could at first fool the listener, this is far from a glorification of the bottle, instead revealing the tender love story of meeting his wife. ‘Lady May’, meanwhile, provides a full spectrum transition from the album's opening; a serene love letter that is sure to bring the feels at first dances of future Southern weddings for years to come.
Childers has asserted himself as one of the most striking neotraditional country and bluegrass artists to arrive in the last decade. On Purgatory, Childers allows his point of view to dwell in a space of conflict. The results are beautifully complicated, thought-provoking and, at times, flawed. All like the man himself. Perhaps that’s the point.
9 / 10.
Tyler Childers' 2017 album, Purgatory, is out now via Hickman Holler Records. You can purchase the album from one of Holler's selected partners below:
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