Robert Christgau on the Country Craft of Tyler Childers and Ashley McBryde
The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews Childers's 'Purgatory,' McBryde's 'Girl Going Nowhere,' and recent records from Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, Chris Janson, and Thomas Rhett.
The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it. He was the music editor at the Village Voice for almost four decades where he created the trusted annual Pazz & Jop Poll. He was one of the first mainstream critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." On top of his columns, he has published six books, including his 2015 autobiography, Going Into the City. He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To find out more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Tyler Childers: Purgatory (Hickman Holler) This intense, narrow, flawlessly crafted retro-nuevo honky-tonk album gains decisive poetry from both Childers's lean, resonant East Kentucky drawl and his failure to shake his fundamentalist upbringing—purgatory, in case you didn't get the message, is a Romanist notion. "Do you reckon He lets free will boys / Mope around in purgatory?" he asks the Catholic girl he hopes to hedge his bets with, and damned if she doesn't slow him down some. "Darlin' to me but that's missus to you," he boasts. "Still on the road 'cause I ain't good for nothing / But writing the songs that I sing," he contextualizes. A MINUS
Ashley McBryde: Girl Going Nowhere (Atlantic) The hot country news in tough country womanhood has enough attitude to stick it to every algebra teacher and Church of Christ deacon who ever looked down on her. But her multitude of good lines yields only two great songs: "Livin' Next to Leroy," the first of what I hope will be many meth-and-opioid dark-siders genre-wide, where her cable-stealing role model ODs while she tokes up at her high school graduation to impress him, followed by "A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega," the grittiest and most utopian of her four I said four road anthems. Like the socko endings she's both blessed and cursed with the voice for, her attraction to this self-replicating subgenre makes me hope that the success she's earned leaves her free to do more with her rosy future than big it up. B PLUS
Chris Janson: Everybody (Warner Music Nashville) Before capping his exploits with the best hookup song ever written, Missouri pro claims farmer, redneck, dad, and bartender as he reaches out to the entire country-radio demographic ("Drunk Girl," "I'm Your Farmer") **
Tim McGraw & Faith Hill: The Rest of Our Life (Arista) They never overstate the conjugal concept, but vocal overkill is one temptation this power couple just can't resist ("Love Me to Lie," "The Bed We Made") **
Thomas Rhett: Life Changes (Valory Music) AOR country gets a life ("Life Changes," "Sixteen") *
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