By Ashli Linkous, Marketing Specialist & Photographer
It wasn’t all that long ago when Tyler Childers recorded a Radio Bristol Session (2018) and played on the 6th Street and the indoors Shanghai Stages at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion (2017). Since then, that Radio Bristol Session video has racked in over 15 million views on YouTube and Childers has continued to rise higher and higher up in the ranks.
With a stage decked out in taxidermy, prairie grass, and a black-and-white checkered floor, plus a surprise appearance from the Bluff City man who taught him how to play guitar, Tyler Childers made a BIG return to the Tri Cities last month. It was amazing to walk into Freedom Hall Civic Center and see the merch line wrapped around in a seemingly never-ending queue of fans eager to get their hands on some Childers swag. By the time I made it down to the arena floor the crowd was bustling with energy, ready to see the musician who hadn’t played in the area for quite some time. Tickets were hard to come by, with resell tickets going for several hundred bucks a pop.
First coming out solo, Childers opened with “Nose on the Grindstone,” which was followed by heavily spun tracks “Lady May” and “Follow You to Virgie,” with a roar from the crowd following suit. It was then that he brought out 97 year-old Clyde Lloyd, a long-time military service friend of his grandfather whom he would visit in Bluff City, Tennessee during the summers of his youth. It was in the nearby Bluff City where Childers learned his first three chords on acoustic guitar and how to play “Old Country Church.” After a long period of time where the two had lost touch, he was able to reconnect with Lloyd while traveling through the area on tour. Together, they played a duet of the song that brought much of the crowd to tears. To say this was a highlight of the night is an understatement.
But Childers continued to stun when he brought out his backing band, the Food Stamps. Going immediately into his own version of “Old Country Church,” they followed up with the title track of his new record, “Can I Take My Hounds To Heaven.” He then went into “Country Squire” and personal favorite “I Swear (To God)” from his record Purgatory. The crowd screamed along to familiar favorites like “All Your’n,” “Whitehouse Road,” and “Way of the Triune God.” By the end of the night Childers had played 23 songs and left the crowd with a show they’ll never forget. Many even stayed after the show, hoping and waiting to be given a setlist or other small memento from the stage.
It was safe to say that Childers’ recent show was a much different setting from the side stage he played for at the 17th annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion as an up-and-comer in 2017, going from playing to several hundred to nearly 8,500 this go round. It’s crazy to think about how much he’s grown since that day and the crowd who unknowingly witnessed a legend in the making.
I feel like it’s a testament to the work we do here at the Birthplace of Country Music, bringing in names who may not yet be on your radar. The same story has played out for so many huge acts that were up-and-coming when they played these streets, including Sturgill Simpson, CAAMP, and Billy Strings, to name just a few. This organization and this festival is proud to uplift and support live music and up-and-coming artists, and we hope that we can continue bringing in names that will soon rule the charts for decades to come. To learn more about the festival, visit BristolRhythm.com
Ashli Linkous is a Marketing Specialist & Photographer at the Birthplace of Country Music, Inc. and an avid music lover!
As 2022 comes to a close, it becomes a time for reflection – and so Radio Bristol would like to take the opportunity to look back at some of the releases that made this past year memorable on the music front. This year saw releases from many great artists, including some heavy hitters like Billy Strings and Tyler Childers, and many breakout artists like Adeem the Artist, Miko Marks, and more. With so many great releases this year, it’s tough to narrow it down, but here are just a few of our recommendations for some of this year’s standout releases. As always, if you tune into Radio Bristol you’re sure to hear all these artists regularly spinning on our airwaves!
49 Winchester // Fortune Favors the Bold
The boot-scuffing barstool ballads of 49 Winchester’s fourth studio album, Fortune Favors the Bold, has landed the band national acclaim and the mega fandom of country music superstars such as Luke Combs. A festival favorite at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, the Russell County, Virginia natives have gone from playing small venues on Bristol’s State Street to selling out theaters across the country.
Composed of high school buddies who grew up together in nearby Castlewood, Virginia, 49 Winchester’s newest release relates genuine downhome grit with dang-good storytelling, showcasing the group’s infectious Southern rock-infused brand of Appalachian folk meets country soul.
Leyla McCalla // Breaking the Thermometer (To Hide the Fever)
New Orleans-based multi-instrumentalist Leyla McCalla’s newest album, Breaking the Thermometer, explores her Haitian-American heritage through the troublesome history of Creole-language based Radio Haiti, an independent station that for decades confronted corruption with traditional Creole music. This interdisciplinary project, commissioned by Duke University, also combines storytelling, dance, video projection, and audio recordings from the Radio Haiti Archive which can be viewed during live performances.
Breaking the Thermometer feels like an exuberant analysis of culture, physiological space, and political discourse, with vibrant cello arrangements and emotive organic soundscapes that feel epic in scale and intensity.
The A’s // Fruit
Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath and longtime musical collaborator Alexandra Sauser-Monnig teamed up for a new project as The A’s, recently releasing Fruit, an idiosyncratic collection of folk songs that glean inspiration from early country music’s yodeling farm girls, The DeZurik Sisters. Recorded over a two-week stint during balmy summer nights at Sylvan Esso’s Chapel Hill studio “The Betty,” the pair playfully procured songs such as Harry Nilsson “He Needs Me” and traditional ballads like “Swing and Turn Jubilee” and “Copper Kettle” with endearing whimsy and hair-raising vocal harmonies.
The clarity of their voices peppered amidst a capella and thoughtfully accompanied atmospheric tracks create a glowing sense of intimacy, harkening back to early American field recordings, while sounding ultra contemporary. A perfect choice for a rainy day or a sun dappled picnic!
Brennen Leigh// Obsessed with the West
Brennen Leigh’s collaborative Western swing-inspired record Obsessed with the West hit the vintage vibes music lover’s scene with a punch. Produced by Ray Benson, whose legendary band Asleep at the Wheel also backed Leigh on the recording, this album is a grand excursion into a well-loved subgenre of country music. Punctuated by 1940s jump blues, folk cowboy balladry, and jazz-infused country, the tracks read like a love note addressed to the austere beauty of the Western plains. Nashville by-way-of Austin, Texas-based singer Leigh’s voice sways across the rollicking big band like a silk cloud of sawdust with a mellow swagger that feels effortlessly cool.
Charlie Crockett // Man from Waco
Charlie Crockett, the record-slinging Texan with an ever-expanding discography of retro-tinged Americana gold, has now become one of the most popular artists in independent country. Crockett is currently landing in a new stratosphere for roots musicians dominating the independent Americana radio with the #1 album and #1 song on the release of Man from Waco.
Man From Waco is a loosely conceptualized project with a theme song that both introduces and closes the album, drawing its inspiration from legendary country music singer James Hand. Mostly recorded live by Crockett and his band The Blue Drifters,’ this new album solidifies Crockett’s monstrous talent and incredible ability to turn out top grade recordings.
Swimming through multiple genres – including funk, R&B, soul, Tex-Mex, Western swing, folk, and traditional country – Crockett treads water through uncharted territories with an easy grin, maintaining his authentic aww-shucks attitude and relaxed cowboy charm though vulnerable lyrics.
Willie Carlisle // Peculiar, Missouri
Peculiar, Missouri, Willi Carlisle’s newest release on Free Dirt Records, further authenticates the rising songwriter’s rare talent for storytelling. Packed full of poetic grit and intimate ruminations on the human condition, Carlisle’s musical performance feels like Allen Ginsburg and Utah Phillps bore a folkster lovechild with a voracious proclivity for personal truth.
This album acts as a stylistic barometer of American folk music, with flashes of honky tonk on the socially-aware single “Vanlife,” Tejano-on-Cowboy border ballad “Este Mundo,” and talking blues on the title track – an anxious Guthrie-esque account of an existential “come apart” in the Walmart cosmetic aisle. Every so often Carlisle releases a tremulous yawp amidst impossibly witty lyrics like a reflexive revolt against the absurdity of existence; his voice feels like something familiar and something wholly new that we’ve never heard before.
Tyler Childers // Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?
Liberator of free thought in country songwriting the Kentucky poet Tyler Childers’ triple-LP Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? is a complex celebration of traditional Appalachian religious music, offering social commentary with an ecumenical scope. The album’s eight tracks are imagined in three different arrangements – the “Hallelujah” version, which has an unadorned “live” feel; the “Jubilee” version, which has more of the production you’d expect from a country music recording, and a “Joyful Noise” version, which seems to delve into the energetic essence of each song though electronic remixes and auditory environments with sound bites from artists such as Jean Ritchie and country comedian Jerry Clower.
Deeply divisional for fans of Childers’ more acoustic releases, Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? is striking for its imaginative qualities and Childers’ uninhibited sonic journey through nostalgia, spirituality, and contemporary awareness.
S. G. Goodman // Teeth Marks
Western Kentucky-based songsmith, S. G. Goodman made an indelible mark on southern music with their debut album Old-Time Feeling in 2020; its pensive production and self-aware lyricism caught the attention of major music industry players, such as Tyler Childers who recently covered the single “Space and Time.”
Now the queer-identified farmer’s daughter who grew up near the banks of the Mississippi River is carving a place as a rising voice in new-south roots rock on Teeth Marks. Enveloped by surging post-punk meets 1960s southern rock reverb clad guitar, Goodman’s achy voice quavers like an exposed nerve with acute realizations that stem from a progressive rural consciousness, making this album easily one of most intriguing releases of the year.
Melissa Carper // Ramblin’ Soul
For the second year in a row, we have to include Austin-based stand-up bassist Melissa Carper’s and her latest recording Ramblin’ Soul. With a similar recipe that created her beloved Daddy’s Country Gold in 2021, Carper’s newest collection of songs was also recorded at the Bomb Shelter in Nashville, Tennessee. Produced by Andrija Tokic and Dennis Crouch of The Time Jumpers, Ramblin’ Soul definitely has a healthy helping of that extra special sauce that has made Carper become a stand out artist on the Americana charts.
With an alluring varnish of vintage tone, Carper masterfully encapsulates a multitude of classic American sounds with glimmers of Western swing, rhythm and blues, country, soul, jazz, and folk, that both sound impressively authentic to the era, and gratifyingly pleasant to hear. This is definitely an album you can put on without skipping a track, perfect for cooking up a mess of biscuits with Caper’s blissful Billie Holiday by way of Loretta Lynn-sque vocals simmering on the backburner.
Vaden Landers // Lock the Door
We would be remiss to not include a local release on this list. East Tennessee native and Bristol resident Vaden Landers envisions traditional country music through a lens made razor sharp by countless performances at dive bars and regional venues, with an undeniable finesse that can only be gained through road-worn experience.
You may have caught Landers performing at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this year or at State Street’s Cascade Draft House where he and his band – The Hot n’ Ready String Band – played a weekly residency this summer. As a rising purveyor of irrefutable country music, Landers’ newest release on Hill House Records has masterful production, calling to mind the golden era of country music production in the mid-1950s known as The Nashville Sound. Produced at The Bomb Shelter by Andrija Tokic and John James Tourville, the 12 tracks on Lock the Door relay songs of love, heartbreak, and hard living, while Landers’ satisfyingly raspy twang summersaults and yodels across old-school sounding lyrics. No doubt borrowing vocal techniques from country greats such as George Jones and Johnny Paycheck, the album feels like a country fan’s daydream. At Radio Bristol we’ve been spinning this album in heavy rotation and think it’s well worth the listen!
Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah!on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.
For some, country music appears to be a genre that hasn’t changed much over time – too often, there is a perception of it being pretty much the same, no matter what song or artist is on the playlist. But over the years, it really has changed – from the subjects of the songs to the styles to the variety and diversity of its influences. We’ve seen the “big bang” of early commercial country music at the 1927 Bristol Sessions with artists like Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, honky-tonk blues, the Nashville sound, outlaw country, traditionalists, and so much more.
Over the past decade or so, it feels like we’ve seen a conforming era in the sound of country music. As a country music fan, I can’t count how many times I’ve said or heard the words: “I don’t like new country music, only old country music.” When Taylor Swift emerged as a country artist, I was right there for it. I burned “Our Song,” “Tim McGraw,” and the Fearless album onto a CD as quick as I could. But after a while, Taylor Swift wasn’t so country anymore – and she wasn’t the only one. And so soon, I fell away from new artists because I felt like they were clinging too much to pop music, or really over-doing the country sound.
Within the last five years, however, I’ve once again started listening more and more to new country. Artists like Luke Combs, Kacey Musgraves, and most notably, Tyler Childers have become especially popular in country music. These artists seem to be moving towards a revival of that country sound I’ve been craving. They haven’t necessarily strayed away from a pop sound, but they don’t sing solely about the stereotypical boots, tractors, beer, and women either. For me, it feels like they’ve brought back the country sound with real emotion – from “Dime Store Cowgirl” and “Whitehouse Road” to “When It Rains It Pours.”
When I listen to these artists, I definitely feel the connection to 1990s country, which was a very successful decade for the genre. We saw unforgettable artists like Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, the Chicks, and many more come to the stage, and their legacy and music is still insanely popular almost 30 years later. Not only did the 1990s see these successful and “modernizing” artists, but there was also a roots revival in country music where some musicians hearkened back to earlier bluegrass and hillbilly stars and took a step away from a commercialized sound.
While we have seen numerous waves between the popularity of country-pop and traditional country, we can connect our dear fondness of that old-time sound to the 1927 Bristol Sessions and other early recording sessions of “hillbilly music.” The Bristol Sessions led to the mainstream commercialization of the traditional sound we’ve now been listening to for almost 100 years. When we’re relaxing outside on a hot summer day to the embrace of fiddles, tangy harmonies, and the sounds of music floating through the air, we must give credit to that foundational moment at the Bristol Sessions.
So, how does this compare to what we are experiencing today in country music? While I think we do find ourselves within the roots revival and traditional influences of the genre, we also have to look at how society is today – we naturally have major divisions in the genre over the sound that is created and viewed as “country,” but now we also have divisions within politics and social activism that are also being expressed through music. We also have greater technological advances that allow the industry to produce many different styles of country music, even some we might not have heard before.
And so, for me, I think as the cycle continues to go on, we will never see exact repeats and can never exactly compare one cycle to a previous one, but we will always have the influence of country music’s history as part of this wonderful musical story.
* Title images: The Carter Family (courtesy of Dale Jett); Garth Brooks (Fatherspoon); Kacey Musgraves (BruceC007)
Caitlyn Carter is an honors student and psychology major at Western Carolina University. She is a fan of country music and enjoys exploring different trends of the genre between decades.