Twentysomething East Kentuckian Tyler Childers is the latest standout in a lineage of serious-minded singer-songwriters who’ve chafed at portrayals of their native Appalachia as a boorish, backward place. The nine vignettes on Country Squire continue the plainspoken but keenly perceptive storytelling from his 2017 breakthrough Purgatory, offering humanizing sketches of struggle, disappointment, and resilience. Some of his loosely autobiographical numbers wryly measure the distance between the modest aspirations he harbored back when his following was merely regional and the more encumbered reality he’s living now. In the title track, he recalls splitting his time between poor-paying road gigs and renovating an old camper trailer: “And when I ain't out playing on my six-string/With the nickels I acquire/I’m trying to fix her up a castle/It's called the Country Squire.”
Childers’ wiry mountain wail and sparing use of keyed-up country vocal curlicues lend songs like “House Fire,” “Creeker,” and “Peace of Mind” a focused emotional intensity. Though this album marks his first partnership with a major label, he kept the producers who steered Purgatory—kindred spirit Sturgill Simpson and storied Nashville engineer David Ferguson—and they’ve once again framed Childers with lean, loping performances from bluegrass and country session vets. It suits a searching mind like Childers’ that some of the most down-home grooves melt into mildly psychedelic transitions between tracks.