Earlier this summer Nashville guitarist William Tyler released a captivating new album, the all-instrumental “Modern Country.” The release is a set of hauntingly beautiful songs that seem to have an organic connection to the vanishing American West. Tyler’s guitar style is often labelled American primitivism, although this album is more evolved, more “modern,” with most tracks incorporating a backing band and synth based effects.
Tyler is a solo artist and an integral part of two influential alt-country bands, Lambchop and Silver Jews. He’s also played with Charlie Louvin and Bonny “Prince” Billy, noteworthy artists in the Indie/Americana realm. “Modern Country” features a crack band which includes Wilco’s Glen Kotche on percussion, Darin Gray on bass and Megafaun’s Phil Cook on pretty much everything else.
It’s not easy to decipher the meaning of a purely instrumental album. Tyler sees it this way:
“’Modern Country’ is a love letter to what we are losing in America – to what we’ve already lost.” Indeed, the album has a bittersweet, somewhat melancholy feel, although it’s stronger for it. It’s uplifting as well, in a familiar sort of way. His guitar work is a soundscape – primitive and sophisticated, bright and haunting – all at the same time.
The album opener Highway Anxiety expresses the lyrical tone of the album, as well as the instrumental tone. Tyler’s twangy guitar is bathed in echo, with a repeating melody. The intensity builds, slowly adding more instrumentation. It floats along like a cowboy on horseback slowly riding back to camp after a long ride … until about 3 minutes in, when the horse begins a slow gallop. On a video of the song (see below), Tyler describes a cross-country trip he took in search of “that weird new America” a clever reference to writer Greil Marcus’ “old weird America” that inspired so much American folk music.
Gone Clear is another album highlight. It blends in eastern sounds producing a hypnotizing, drone-like sensation. It begins slowly and then devolves into a chamber filled cacophony of bells and whistles. A live version of the song is part of a new release from Jack White’s Third Man Records.
Kingdom of Jones evokes the magnificent fingerpicking of John Fahey or Leo Kottke, with the synthesizer providing some background texture. The title refers to the Mississippi county that took an anti-slavery position during the American Civil War by effectively succeeding from the Confederacy. Heady stuff, well delivered by an extremely talented guitarist.
The Great Unwind is the feedback filled closer that heads into the stratosphere, accompanied by whirring effects and chirping birds. There’s a jungle sound interlude that leads to a tempo change and brings the composition full circle. The main melody returns and the song fades away slowly, with optimism and hope.
Recorded in Oxford, Mississippi, known as “the cultural mecca of the South,” this album merges folk, blues and Americana to create a layered soundscape of America. It’s reminiscent of Ry Cooder’s movie work in films like “Paris, Texas,” although it stands quite well on its own. There’s no need for moving pictures to support these songs, and it’s definitely not background music. Every song on this album tells a story. Longtime fans and those who are unfamiliar with Tyler’s work should definitely check out this release.
William Tyler will be touring the US and Canada with Margo Price in October and joins Wilco for a European tour in November. He has a full band show scheduled for Bush Hall in London November 20th. Dates Below
9/10/16 Madison, WI- Majestic w/ Mavis Staples (solo opening)
9/14/16 Chicago, IL- Constellation w/ Thomas Wincek (full band)
9/15/16 Nashville, TN- Belcourt w/Thomas Wincek (full band)
9/16/16 Asheville, NC- Mothlight w/Thomas Wincek (full band)
9/17/16 Saxapahaw, NC-Haw River Ballroom w/Thomas Winceck (full band)
9/28/16 Atlanta, GA- Variety Playhouse w/Tycho
9/29/16 Oxford, MS- Lyric Theater w/Tycho
10/12/16 Los Angeles, CA-Troubadour w/ Margo Price
10/13/16 Los Angeles, CA-Troubadour w/Margo Price
10/14/16 San Francisco, CA-Great American Music Hall w/Margo Price
10/17/16 Portland, OR- Mississippi Studios w/ Margo Price
10/19/16 Vancouver, BC- Imperial w/Margo Price
10/21/16 Boise, ID- The Olympic w/ Margo Price
10/22/16 Salt Lake City, UT- The State Room w/ Margo Price
10/24/16 Denver, CO- Bluebird Theater w/Margo Price
10/28/16 Brussels, Belgium-Ancienne Belgiuque with Wilco
10/29/16 Ghent, Belgiun-Centrale with Bombino
11/02/16 Copenhagen, Denmark-DR Koncerthuset with Wilco
11/03/16 Oslo, Norway-Sentrum Scene with Wilco
11/04/16 Stockholm, Sweden-Annexet with Wilco
11/05/16 Goteborg, Sweden- Pustervik
11/07/16 Berlin, Germany-Tempodrom with Wilco
11/09/16 Utrecht, Holland-Tivoli with Wilco
11/12/16 Milan, Italy-Fabrique with Wilco
11/14/16 VIenna, Austria-Museumsquartier with Wilco
11/15/16 Zurich, Switzerland-Volkshaus with Wilco
11/16/16 Paris, France-Casino de Paris with Wilco
11/20/16 London, UK-Bush Hall