Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?
There are a lot of folks who consider Tyler Childers a new hero of country music, and with Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?, he takes that as a dare. A triple-album experiment in songcraft and style, Hounds shows off the astonishing breadth of his musical talents and influences, which span country, gospel, soul, bluegrass, rock, and socially conscious folk. The LP follows another ambitious release from the Kentucky native, 2020’s Long Violent History, a primarily instrumental, old-time fiddle album whose closing title track delivers a razor-sharp critique of the region that raised him. Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? builds on the clear-eyed conviction of that song, as first evidenced by the arresting lead single “Angel Band,” which offers a compassionate, hopeful view of the afterlife: “There’s Hindus, Jews, and Muslims and Baptists of all kinds/Catholic girls and Amish boys who’ve left their plows behind.” The track is a clear rebuke of the Christian fire-and-brimstone rhetoric so prevalent in the American South and increasingly used within right-wing politics; another lyric declaring that Jesus “ain’t a blue-eyed man” reinforces Childers’ rejection of the whitewashing of the Christian faith. In a conversation with fellow Southerner and author Silas House, Childers says of the song, “I think that ‘Angel Band,’ especially being the first song out the door, lets people know that God is bigger than all our gods.” “Angel Band” appears—as do all eight songs on the project—in three different versions across the 24-track LP: First come the “Hallelujah” versions, which strip the tracks down to their emotional core. “Jubilee” fleshes out the songs and tightens up the production, for a sound more akin to those of Childers’ albums Purgatory (2017) and Country Squire (2019). Finally, “Joyful Noise” gives Childers and his band the chance to cut loose, incorporating experimental sonic textures like found-audio and psychedelic flourishes. These varying perspectives mirror a message key to the album’s thematic heart: that we’re all connected and have more in common than we think. Other standouts include the title track, which builds upon the spiritual message of “Angel Band” and pays loving mind to the spirits of pets and animals. “Way of the Triune God” nods to Childers’ relatively new sobriety, an undertaking he first began around the release of Long Violent History. And the power closer “Heart You’ve Been Tendin’” dips into the spiritual experiences brought forth by psychedelics, reminding us that the divine can and often does come from within. In a written statement announcing the album, Childers is careful not to call Hounds a gospel album but rather a “spiritual record,” sharing: “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.” Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? is both an exorcism and a celebration, one that’s sure to offer listeners a healthy dose of truth and beauty, too.