TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Before the year ends, our rock critic Ken Tucker wants to review an album that came out earlier this year. It's Tyler Childers' album "Country Squire." He was born in an area of Kentucky that also produced Loretta Lynn and Chris Stapleton. Childers has been the opening act for one of his heroes, John Prine, and this album was co-produced (inaudible) - review of "Country Squire."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVER LOVIN' MIND")
TYLER CHILDERS: (Singing) They got my favorite lotion here, something in a hotel I admire. I got the pictures that you sent me, and how they fill me with desire. Tonight, we've all got our own rooms. I'm about to burn mine down 'cause I miss you something fierce in this quaint New England town.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: It seems like every year around this time I find myself thinking about the ones that got away - albums that, for one reason or another, I never ended up reviewing but whose music has stayed in my head. One of these collections is Tyler Childers' "Country Squire." Blessed with a Kentucky croon and a gift for the telling detail, Childers filled up that album with songs that told stories about his marriage, about his life on the road and, in the one I'm about to play, about the route his school bus used to take when he was a kid.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUS ROUTE")
CHILDERS: (Singing) This where we dropped off the prettiest little girl, same grade as me. Tried to kiss her once in the aisle of the bus, and she walked right over me. Face down in the gum on the floor, I was hoping that she'd change her mind. But I swear, as she walked down the stairs, she didn't even wave goodbye - didn't even wave goodbye.
TUCKER: The precision of the language in that song, "Bus Route," the quick, vivid descriptions of the harried bus driver and of Childers' hapless 8-year-old self are typical of the entire album. "Country Squire" was co-produced by Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson, and it has a nice, loose, lowdown feel to it. I believe it when Childers told an interviewer that they cut the album's nine songs in two days, which is not to say that it sounds rushed or sloppy; instead it sounds candid, unselfconscious and unrestrained.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COUNTRY SQUIRE")
CHILDERS: (Singing) Well, tonight I'm up in Chillicothe, downwind from the paper mill. I'm out here spitting on the sidewalk, taking in the factory smells. Heaven knows, she tends to smoking out the window in the air, that gas pipe leak. I wonder if she's cringing at the same time, thinking pretty thoughts of me. I was up for hours this morning, pulling traps before I said goodbye. I plan to tan myself a fox hide and hang it on the darling bride 'cause they tell me that it's going to be a big one, and the snow's setting in. And I don't want her cold while I ain't home, the way I've been. Spending my nights in...
TUCKER: That's the title song, in which it becomes clear that Tyler Childers isn't portraying himself as a fancy-pants squire of the country; nope, it's a reference to a brand of camper. Once again, he's devilishly good at the details, describing songs as the two-by-fours with which he builds his career and with a goal to putting his wife and himself in this so-called castle of a camper, deep in the woods. He's also good at setting the scene of a man who's feeling trapped, sitting in a bar on the edge of town, in this song called "Creeker."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CREEKER")
CHILDERS: (Singing) In a small corner bar, he sits there drinking, lost as a ball in a field full of corn, further away than he ever imagined that he'd ever end up from the place he was born. Now no more forlorn, as the creeker drank whiskey, than the one you see outside of your eye, drinking alone as he looks out the window at all of the strangers on the corner outside. He'd rather be dead...
TUCKER: Childers has said of the songs on this album, I hope that maybe someone from somewhere else can get a glimpse of the life of a Kentucky boy. I think he's succeeded admirably. He doesn't sound like anyone else making country music right now, and he made one of the best country albums of 2019.
GROSS: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviewed "Country Squire" by Tyler Childers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.