Review: Tyler Childers keeps sound firmly rooted in Kentucky

Tyler Childers, “Country Squire” (Hickman Holler/RCA)

The list of country artists making groundbreaking music these days isn’t as long as it should be, but it has to include Tyler Childers. And he’s at it again on “Country Squire,” a worthy successor to the breakthrough “Purgatory.” That album, which appeared on a lot of 2017 “best of” lists, was so firmly set in Kentucky that you could breathe the fumes from the coal trucks.

The new record rises from the same Appalachian roots. And the fact that Childers keeps doing things his way, experimenting fearlessly with influences that feel like they were born in him, makes this as good as anything coming out of Nashville these days.

“Country Squire” was produced by Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson, the same duo Childers worked with on the earlier album. The sound takes traditional Appalachian instruments — and it’s the fiddle-playing and Childers’ plaintive singing that plant this album most firmly in the mountains — and amps them up in unexpected ways.

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The thing is, Childers seems almost incapable of writing anything trite. So whether he’s singing a loving tribute to his used camper, as he does in the title song, or tracing the school bus route of his youth on “Bus Route,” it’s clear he’s not following any path but his own.

That’s how it is with an artist who’s so already established that he’s far more likely to lead. And make no mistake, his path is winding out of the eastern Kentucky hills.

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