Purgatory by Tyler Childers: a review

By Gabe Schwartzman, Features Editor

Purgatory by Tyler Childers is a 10-song, 37-minute country album that revolutionizes the genre while staying true to its roots at the same time. Released in 2017 as Childers’ second studio album, Childers truly solidifies himself as both a songwriter and performer, a great one at that. The album is fully produced by Grammy award-winning country artist Sturgill Simpson, who like Childers hails from Kentucky, bringing a tight bluegrass feel to the project, along with beautiful arrangements and mastering.

The album is kicked off with “I Swear (To God),” an upbeat diddy where Childers sings about drug use, hard work, and losing his woman, accompanied by a strong fiddle solo and harmonies. The next song is “Feathered Indians,” which became one of Childers’ biggest hits with its sweet melodies and lyrics about cigarettes and Childers’ willingness to “run across rivers” for his lover.

In the third song, “Tattoos,” Childers slows things down and gets in his feelings. This heart-wrenching song is about he lost a lover and will soon be a distant memory to her. Childers’ unique vocal tone and rawness of his voice are what make this album. His higher register of singing is something country music is not used to, and it is drawing in millions of new fans to the genre. 

“Born Again,” brings gorgeous vocal harmonies to the album, courtesy of Simpson, and “Whitehouse Road,” is a real rocker with long sliding guitars and quirky bouncy percussion noises, behind lyrics about cocaine use, moonshine drinking, and partying your problems away. “Banded Clovis” is a chorus-less deep cut that tells the story of a murder that occurs when two friends go sifting for gold, a true lyrical masterclass.

The next song is the title track, and it is a true bluegrass song, with fast-paced banjos and fiddles with a smooth harmony over Childers’ voice over the whole song. The idea of purgatory finally comes into fruition here, when he discusses that his catholic girl is his only hope for heaven and he wonders if god lets free-will boys mope around in purgatory. 

The penultimate song is “Universal Sound,” and it has over time become my favorite song on the album. This song is singular from the rest of the album, as it brings a psychedelic, cosmic sound, which makes sense considering the topic matter of the lyrics. He sings about music being the universal language that connects all humans and how we as people need to take time to meditate and “focus on our breathing.” The album finishes off with “Lady May,” a love song Childers wrote for his wife. This piece closes the album on a sweet and quiet note, with nothing but a guitar and Childers’ gripping voice serenading whoever is listening. 

Purgatory by Tyler Childers is the step that country music must take in order to remain a prominent genre in music today. Childers is taking the world by storm with his soul-filled, hearty voice that catches you by surprise on the first listen. Lyrically, Childers is able to write from a place that is undoubtedly human, allowing the listener to connect with his words on a spiritual level. This to me, is a perfect album.