An artist’s quest for inspiration is an insatiable journey. What once inspired our favorite artists; loneliness, depression, and anxiety are for some now a thing of the past. They may find themselves a little older, richer, and wiser. If they are lucky, they’ve obtained financial security, got married, kick their substance abuse habits, and started working with a psychologist. The only thing they need now is… a fresh dose of inspiration. We’ve seen bands do several different things to find some inspiration. Some have gone acoustic while others went electric. They’ve added new band members and, in many cases, let other band members leave. All in the name of inspiration. Man… it’s hard to get a good dose of that stuff.
Tyler Childers’ new album Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? draws inspiration from a common source for many musicians, religion. Childers released a statement about the new album:
I grew up Baptist and I was scared to death to go to hell. And a lot of that stuck with me. Filtering through that and trying to find the truth, and the beauty, and the things you should think about and expelling all that nonsense has been something I’ve spent a lot of time on.
This is a collection that came together through those reflections. In a lot of ways, this is processing
life experiences in the different philosophies and religions that have formed me, trying to make a
comprehensive sonic example of that. Working with the same song three different ways is a nod to
my raising, growing up in a church that believes in the Holy Trinity: The Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost, and what that means.
The first single released from the album is “Angel Band.” On the surface, the track fits the mold of a traditional country gospel hymn. Childers shares his vision of a relationship with God rather than the tradition of the church. He’s learned that some things taught in the church aren’t true and his version of angels and heaven can be shared by all, a theme that he touched on in “Universal Sound” on his album 2019’s Country Squire. The rest of “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven” showcases Childer’s duality, as a man of God and as a sinner. He weighs the pros and cons of getting into heaven and seems resolved to settle for purgatory as he reminisces about his life of drug and alcohol use.
The format of this album, like Childers, defies convention. Despite showcasing numerous of original religious unrecorded tracks at his live shows, “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven” only offers 8 songs. Of those eight, two are instrumental, and one is a cover. Fans hoping for a traditional Tyler Childers’ album will be…. intrigued… to find that each song has three different versions on this record: a “Hallelujah” version, a “Jubilee” version, and a “Joyful Noise” version. The “Hallelujah” and “Jubilee” versions of each track feature some different orchestrations, but mostly sound like the same songs. The “Joyful Noise” version is a rough cut of samples and sequences that honestly, don’t need to be considered at all when listening to this album.
For me, it’s just okay. Some great tunes and some interesting ideologies, but this is far from an “instant classic”. Now that Childers is done recording his fifth and final record on RCA, perhaps we’ll see him prosper on a smaller label, or maybe start something himself and record and perform at his leisure. Regardless of genre, Childers is an artist to keep tabs on.