This could be the big breakout year for Tyler Childers. He’s been knocking on the door of broader fame since the 2017 release of his record Purgatory, which was produced by Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson. The album ended up on a number of year-end “best country albums” lists, including NPR, Rolling Stone, and Wide Open Country. That record, a collection of autobiographical, Southern gothic noir song sketches struck a particular chord with fans of old school, “don’t get above your raisin'” country fans.
Now, RCA has put its weight behind the indie label that nurtured Childers’ debut, and Simpson and Ferguson return to produce the follow-up, Country Squire. Another collection of true to yourself songwriting, Childers offers up an individual perspective on this good-times country record custom-made for a back porch party or driving to a hidden swimming hole with friends or a lover. Counter to the cliched country narrative, the Kentucky-born Childers sings about a happy marriage and his dreams of building a positive future for himself and his family. This is the music of the hills and for the hills and any sense of escape is that of moving from troubles and into the embrace of home.
In the opening song that gives the record its name, Childers sings about being on the road and missing his loved ones, the loneliness and inconvenience of the musician’s life made bearable by his knowledge that he’s “turnin’ them songs into two by fours” which will someday make his dream of “a cabin and a family on a hill” a reality. If he can’t physically build his homestead yet, the troubadour’s work is one day going to put a roof over his head (and one, it seems, he’s fixing to build with his own hands when the time comes).
Childers’ passion guides this record in ways that hit the heart, the gut, and even the funny bone. “House Fire” is a song of passion, a wish that he and his lover will with joyful regularity metaphorically burn their house down in their unrelenting heat. “All Your’n” is a tribute to mature and persistent love, of the shared journey true lovers take and the signposts along the way. Wedding DJs be ready: you will hear many requests from couples to play this song for their first dance. Then, there’s “Everlovin’ Hand”, which answers the question of how one quells those natural desires while living the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of the road.
Also returning from Purgatory to play on Country Squire are Stuart Duncan (fiddle, mandolin, banjo), Miles Miller (drums, background vocals), and Russ Pahl (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, pedal steel, Jaw harp, baritone). Recorded in only two days, the unit plays tight yet carefree bringing an airiness to the songs. This is a true feel-good country record that should generate repeated play. Childers is the real deal; the joy and grit in these songs are pure hill country. Life ain’t always easy, but it is always what you make it; that’s a lesson Childers has learned from his place and people, and he shares it here with aplomb.