“Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?” Tyler Childers, (Hickman Holler Records/RCA)
Tyler Childers does what he wants when he wants, and while he’d like you to buy his music, he probably doesn’t care what you think. His last album followed two best-selling country records with an utterly non-commercial deep dive into traditional Appalachian melody.
So it comes as no surprise that on his latest offering, “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?” the red-headed Kentucky native has something different in mind. Or that he does it with fearless exuberance.
This time Childers has taken eight songs about faith and produced each three different ways. There’s the straightforward “Hallelujah Version,” featuring his fabulous touring band, the Food Stamps. There’s the “Jubilee Version,” which dials up the production with boisterous horns, background vocals and over-the-top attitude. And there’s the “Joyful Noise Version,” an eclectic set that mixes spoken-word samples ranging from Andy Griffith to Thomas Merton with rhythmic, off-the-wall sonic experimentation.
The album is built on a gospel foundation, but Childers’ faith is more about love than judgment. Everybody’s welcome in his heaven.
The repeat takes give the album a behind-the-curtains feel, offering intriguing glimpses into the creative range of Childers and his band. Still, Childers might’ve had a more compelling album if he’d made some painful choices.
The Hallelujah versions are generally the best because his band is so sure-footed, though at times the “Jubilee” takes are soaring — on a song called “Angel Band” in particular. A couple of the “Joyful Noise” takes might have worked better in a mix, but including all eight here feels indulgent. The best of them might be the muscular, anthemic jam-session take on “Heart You Been Tendin’,” but it would’ve had more power as a closer if we hadn’t already heard the same song twice.
But that brings us back to where we started. Childers probably doesn’t care what we think. He’s fine going his own way as one of country music’s most compelling and unpredictable artists, saying his piece about faith. He’ll bring us all along if we care to join him, but he knows where he’s headed — and it turns out to be another wild ride.
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