It is thought that the world of country music is divided into two categories: singers and songwriters. Songwriters work hard to write songs that’ll capture the imagination of the public, and then singers make that a reality by delivering impressive performances. There is truth to this, as there are many talented writers making a living writing as well as plenty of singers that stick to singing. It’s a time-tested formula that’s produced an unfathomable amount of popular records over the years.
It is not uncommon, however, that somebody comes along that breaks the mold. Whether it be a writer with a great voice (See: Stapleton, Chris), or a talented singer with a gift for writing (See: Stapleton, Chris), there are plenty of singer-songwriters re-defining what it means to be a singer-songwriter.
One of these up-and-comers played Friday night at the Varsity. Hailing from Kentucky, Tyler Childers is a twenty-seven-year-old with roots in both folk and country. On this night, he displayed a knack for killer songwriting and storytelling, playing with a full band that helped flesh out his songs for an engaged audience.
The night started out with a band from the same region of the country. Ona, an indie rock quintet, played for about 45 minutes. They didn’t blow the audience away with raw power, but their sound was interesting, mixing indie and heartland rock with a dose of alt-country. Though they have only one album out, 2016’s underrated American Fiction, they had no shortage of solid songs to keep the audience happy during their solid set. Their career prospects are exciting, and I’m looking forward to hearing what they put out in the future.
Starting his set a little after nine, Childers wasted no time giving the audience exactly what they wanted-hits. Though he doesn’t have high-charting singles, he has a lot of songs that his fans adore. His first and arguably most popular song, “Whitehouse Road,” saw fans singing along to every word. The song, which had a little bit of country funk to it, showcased both Childers talents as a lyricist and the talents of his backing band, who laid the foundation upon which the show was built.
While the response to this song didn’t surprise me, what came next did. That was the response to the deep cut “Deadman’s Curve.” A full band rendition of an excellent cut off of an acoustic EP recorded before his breakout (Last year’s Purgatory), the song saw the fans just as engaged. It wouldn’t be the only non-album track to be well-received by the audience, with more mixed in throughout the set, including crowd favorite “Shake the Frost,” and “Nose on the Grindstone,” which would close out the set.
While the deep cuts played well, it was the Purgatory songs that the audience went the craziest for. These included “I Swear (To God),” “Honky Tonk Flame,” and “Universal Sound,” the latter of which sounded different than anything the band would play all evening.
Most of the rest of the set leaned more heavily towards country, with a few exceptions. This wasn’t a problem though, as the songs were well-written, and the playing of the band strong enough to keep everything interesting.
Childers also kept things interesting with a few covers, the best of which was a strong take on Dr. Hook’s Shel Silverstein-penned “I Got Stoned and I Missed It,” which showed a sense of humor that would also be on display during his banter with the audience.
Humor was only a part of his set though, as he showed many sides of his artistry. Some of the songs were about love, some about heartbreak and lighter numbers contrasted and coexisted with weightier material. Throughout, he showed why he is truly a gifted singer and songwriter. The world is lucky to have him. We’ll see what direction he takes next.