Working Man’s Country: Tyler Childers Stays True to His Roots

At last year’s Americana Music Awards in Nashville, Tyler Childers made it clear what type of music he’s aiming to play. During his acceptance speech for winning Emerging Artist of the Year, Childers said, “As a man who identifies as a country music singer, I feel Americana ain’t no part of nothin’.”

Perhaps Childers is miffed at what the Music Row establishment calls “country” and ultimately feeds to the radio these days, but, genre labels aside, he certainly hasn’t had any trouble finding an audience. The Kentucky tunesmith’s debut album, 2017’s Purgatory, became a viral hit and ultimately made Childers a fast-rising rootsmusic star. His sound and spirit fall in line with the recent work of outlaw revivalists Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson—both fellow Kentuckians. Like his predecessors, Childers has a knack for delivering compelling tales and insights about the hard-luck realities of rural life in the South.

 His first album—co-produced by Simpson and Johnny Cash’s former engineer David Ferguson— showcased Childers’ keen observations and humorous story songs about small-town culture and the seedy side of Appalachia, delivered through vintage country, ragged twang-rock and shades of bluegrass. He continues down a similar path on the highly anticipated follow-up, Country Squire, which was released in August and features Childers offering personal introspection on his Kentucky upbringing and his current life balancing marriage with being a musician making his living on the road.

In the title track, a fiddle-driven honky-tonk ramble, Childers looks back at the grind of working blue-collar jobs and living in a trailer with his wife, Senora May—also an excellent songwriter—when they were newlyweds. Lonesome ballad “Peace of Mind” takes a more mournful approach, detailing characters stuck in a backroads rut through the achingly sung lines, “Days are darker down in the holler, waiting for the sun to shine.” 

“I hope that I’m doing my people justice, and I hope that maybe someone from somewhere else can get a glimpse of the life of a Kentucky boy,” Childers said in a statement.

While making his latest effort, Childers revealed he was inspired by two albums: Allen Toussaint’s Southern Nights and Jim & Jesse’s Diesel on My Tail. The former’s influence is apparent in “All Your’n,” a soulful love song written for May that places Childers’ gritty drawl in a cradle of comforting R&B. There are some welcome sonic diversions, but on these nine new tracks Childers affirms that he set out to make a “working man’s country album.” 

Childers performs at the Anthem in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 13, the Ritz in Raleigh, N.C., on Dec. 18 and the Fillmore in Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 19.

Bluegrass State of Mind


Three More Kentucky Artists to Watch

Ian Noe

Ian Noe channels John Prine on his debut record Between the Country.

Earlier this year, this emerging singer-songwriter released a stunning debut album, Between the Country, a 10-track set of vivid story songs, inspired by downtrodden scenes of his native eastern Kentucky. Produced by roots ace Dave Cobb, the record chronicles dark realities with literary vision, as Noe uses a powerfully simple folk delivery reminiscent of early John Prine while also incorporating some of the vintage electric jangle of the Byrds. In particular, the stark yet soulful “Junk Town” channels Prine’s classic “Sam Stone,” a similarly somber look at addiction struggles. 

The Wooks

Emerging faces in the progressive bluegrass world, this Kentucky quartet has earned widespread attention thanks to a relentless touring ethic and a first-place finish at the prestigious band contest at Colorado’s Rockygrass Festival. The fast-picking outfit holds reverence for the traditional sounds of its home state but also branches out to include a rock edge, landing in the realm of newgrass predecessors like the Infamous Stringdusters. The band’s impressive debut album, Little Circles, was produced by banjo great Alison Brown. 

Kelsey Waldon

Hailing from Monkey’s Paw, Ky., Waldon’s classic country voice and wry wit earned her a loyal following when she moved to Nashville and started diligently working the local singer-songwriter circuit. That effort continues to pay off, as earlier this year she became the first new artist in 15 years signed to John Prine’s Oh Boy Records. On Oct. 4, Waldon will release her first album for the label, White Noise/White Lines, a record that continues her approach of taking traditional twang forward with gritty originality. As Prine recently put it, “Her music continues an important arc of traditional folk and country music.”