Live on Red Barn Radio l & ll isn’t the sort of country music album you’ll hear billowing from the open sunroof of a blue Honda Civic waiting outside a hot yoga studio. Instead, it’s a compilation of two live performances played on guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and banjo, all in perfect harmony with the one of a kind voice of Tyler Childers. An East Kentucky Man of Constant Sorrow, Childers voice harbours a distinct streak of pain and a generous splash of whiskey.
The songs on this album are the sum of hard times and hard truths. They each contain heartfelt and honest lyrics about loss, love, and the haunting mistress of strong drink. Tyler Childers writes and performs with the disturbing poeticism and power of Townes Van Zandt mixed with Kurt Cobain, offering listeners a raw, unashamed look into the core of himself and his miseries.
The standout track on this album is titled “Whitehouse Road.” The lines “Rotgut whiskey gonna ease my pain/ And all this runnin’s gonna keep me sane” flow into the chorus like a torch stream into the Lake of Fire. “We’ve been sniffin’ that cocaine/ Ain’t nothin’ better when the wind cuts cold,” Childers wails with a distant harmony sung by the Devil sat atop his shoulder. “Lord, it’s a mighty hard livin’/ But a damn good feelin’ to run these roads.” A chilling and honest ballad to the renegade life and that which Childers has found in the granulated embrace of the long white line.
Found at the end of the album, “Follow You to Virgie,” puts the breadth and complexity of Childers songwriting on full display in a piece dedicated to the memory of the “Mountain Beauty” he had once known. “Yeah, I reckon we were heathens/ But in her eyes we were saints” he sings, referring to the grandmother of a high school friend who had, in a sense, become a part of his own family. This song shares the moments spent “making sense of all these strings” with her as the sole audience member. “I can see her in the corner/ Singin’ along to all our crazy dreams” Childers sings, surely finding solace in those unshakeable memories.
This concert album rolls with the rhythm of a man on the run from himself. From “Deadman’s Curve” to “Whitehouse Road,” listeners are taken on a journey through Hell and most of the way back. Though this self proclaimed heathen leans on the Faith of his upbringing in his songwriting, this is by no means the sort of music to share around the fire at Bible Camp. These songs were written by a man with good reason to fear his God.