I am admittedly late to the game on reviewing Childers’ new album Country Squire from 2019. Let’s just say we’ve all been a little busy over the past few months dealing with this and that. But let’s tackle these fantastic songs from one of the best rising stars of the alt country music scene. The roads are paved in Nashville, but where Childers does his writing these are dirt roads with wily folks inhabiting the hills. Ain’t nobody tells a better story than this guy.
The opening track is the title track “Country Squire” about love, country life, and trying to make it as a singer. It’s a nice two step country tune perfect for the Grand Ole Opry. Childers tells a fun story about making it with his love in a pull behind camper while he travels from show to show. It’s got a charming fiddle part that connects the idealistic lyrics about “making it” as a country artist. The composition is equal parts fun-loving and cultural commentary on the improbable rise of a country artist in the modern day. It’s absolutely perfect to launch the album.
“Bus Route” is a genius track. The first time I heard it I was floored by how a single song could be both so simple and so complex. I know the comparison with an artist like Hank Williams is overdone, but Childers has that plainspoken observation of everyday realities that makes for such good music. The storyline follows a bus route of elementary kids, reminiscing where the “prettiest little girl” lived. It’s got a great spirit about a rabble rousing young man like Childers seems to have been.
The following track “Creeker” opens with some avant garde stylings before sliding right into a traditional country swing tune. The title is a nickname of sorts. But the song is mostly about drinking whiskey and wrastlin’ with some rough emotions about small town life. Then “Gemini” has the common ramble style of Childers’ earlier work. He recounts earlier days in his life with his friends causing trouble. But there’s a real sense that he’s in a different place in his life now. The guitar work on this one is really good, creating some layers that put me in mind of alt country acts from a generation ago like the Mavericks.
The last few tracks on the album really show Childers at his best. “Peace of Mind” is full of emotion and the hope of one day being able to live the life you want to live. “But the day that he retires he’ll smoke himself to China; he’ll leave behind his worries as he races through the sky.” This kind of clever songwriting might seem like a fun loving message to some listeners, but this is exactly the kind of thinking of the salt of the earth people Childers represents. It’s an affordable escape from the painful realities of the world. It’s funny at times, but really the song represents daily coping mechanisms for millions of people.
I think “All Your’n” is my favorite song on the whole album and it’s not even a country song in the purest sense. I love that it shows the inextricable link between soul and country music. The soulful lyrical delivery from Childers is really impressive. Not only that, the sentiment “I’ll love you til my lungs give out” is the married person’s promise. It’s one of the most creative, fascinating, unconventional “love songs” you’ll ever hear.
The final track “Matthew” tells another unique story, based on a family member’s experience, and rolls it into Childers’ timeless storytelling form. I am extremely fond of the “lonesome sound” of Childers’ vocal on this particular tune. I could listen to a full album – heck, a full concert – with these kind of vocal flourishes that are as old as the mountains themselves. It’s the best way to end the album, too. It’s a song with a banjo, a fiddle, and a lonesome vocal; it’s about family and historical legacy. I love it.
This album is outstanding and I did actually put it on my best albums of 2020 list. I hadn’t covered it in an album review, but I wanted to make sure to give it due diligence. I hope Mr Childers knows that he is a heartening songwriter for so many of us who lament the direction of commercial country music. I appreciate the enthusiasm and the timeless music. It does an old rust belt boy some good.