Reviewed by Bill Tokash
Appalachian artist Tyler Childers is an “overnight sensation” eight years in the making. In 2018, during his “emergence”, he’s played both the Grand Ole Opry and Lollapalooza and had his name mis-pronounced while being named the Americana Music Association’s 2018 “Emerging” Artist. He even recently played with legendary songwriter John Prine on Austin City Limits. His recent take (paraphrased) that he wasn’t quite sure how all this came about, but that it may be best described as someone leaving the back door open while he snuck into your living room seems half accurate.
I first came across Tyler Childers’ music last year from W.B. Walker’s Old Soul Radio Show pod, which is hands-down essential listening for any music fan that appreciates a little grit and twang in their earbuds from bands that tend to get lost in the shuffle. Or maybe its bands that never get close to the shuffle button. Ole W.B.’s Big Ass specializes in finding artists that occupy the space that I like, which is country music that no one gets to hear.
The first thing I noticed about Tyler is the depth of the emotions steeped across his vocal style. And then the deeper you go on the listens, the sheer brilliance of his songwriting starts to sink in. Tyler Childers paints emotional pictures across three to five-minute eastern Kentucky canvases. By this past summer, I had gone back over just about everything Tyler had put out, streaming and otherwise, before attending the Schuba’s pre-Lolla show in early August in Chicago. By the time I got to that show, my anticipations were sky-high, and Tyler and his band delivered a scintillating, late-night weekday set.
What you notice straightaway about Tyler live is his voice is every bit as rich and emotional and rough-hewn as it sounds on the recordings. The second thing you notice is how tight his sound is. It’s clear he and his bandmates have honed their performing skills to the point where the live show exhibits a road-tested chemistry that’s palpable. And when the October 21 Thalia Hall show was announced, I could not wait to see him again.
Tyler opened the show with Whitehouse Road, a colorful landscape song where you can almost feel yourself cruising down Whitehouse Road with the truck heater on, but the defrost not quite keeping the ice off the windshield. Tyler then plowed straight forward with some of his strongest songwriting on Deadman’s Curve, a spirited, “dang glad I broke up with you” song and Shake the Frost’s unabashed lyrical sensitivity (you remind me of a Sunday/back home in old Kentucky/with the church choirs just belting’ to the pines). By Feathered Indians, and its knockout chorus (Honey tell me how your love runs true/And how I can always count on you/To be there when the bullets fly/I’d run across the river just to hold you tonight), the Sunday night sold-out crowd was in full singalong mode.
The back half of the set was highlighted by the first childhood crush-focus of Bus Route, the bluesy pedal steel riffs of Honky Tonk Flame, and deep-cut cover gems like Trudy, by the Charlie Daniels Band, and Tulsa Turnaround by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. As Tyler closed the show with a solo acoustic version of Lady May, I found myself longing for new songs while remaining hopeful he can continue to paint these pictures now that the light of day has been shone on his talents.
Dean Man’s Curve
Shake the Frost
Swear to God
Take My Hounds to Heaven
A Song While You’re Away
Messed Up Kid
Ever Loving Hand
I Got Stoned and I Missed It (Dr. Hook cover)
Honey Tonk Flame
Tulsa Turnaround (Kenny Rogers & the First Edition cover)
Trudy (Charlie Daniels Band cover)