Sunday, September 24, 2023

Kat's Korner: Tyler Childers' RUSTIN IN THE RAIN and living through the pain

Kat: Last week, I was writing about who cleaned up at The Americana Awards and Honors and I'm going to assume it was a massive party and that's why the official website for the awards still lists the nominees but has yet to post the winners.  Nominees included Margo Price, Allison Russell, Zach Bryan and Charley Crockett, while winners included Bonnie Raiit, SG Goodman, Billy Strings and Tyler Childers.

I didn't know The Americana Awards and Honors even existed until I stumbled past some coverage of the last week.  But they started handing out awards in 2000 and recipients in past years include Brandi Carlile, The Indigo Girls, Chris Isaak, Carla Thomas, John Prine, The Highwomen, Black Pumas, Rhiannon Giddens and Frank Johnson, Elvis Costello, Mavis Staples, Maria Muldaur, kd lang, Irma Thomas, Roseanne Cash, Charlie Sexton, Van Morrison, Iris Dement, Robert Cray, Emmylou Harris, Chris Stapleton, Margo Price, Shawn Colvin, Lucinda Williams, the Mavericks, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Gillian Welch, Don Henley, Los Lobos, BB King, Loretta Lynn, Taj Mahal, Dwight Yoakam, Booker T Jones, Alabama Shakes, Mumford & Sons, Mary Chapin Carter, John Mellencamp, Levon Helm, Asleep At The Wheel, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, Nanci Griffith, Joan Baez, Patty Griffin, Willie Nelson, Ry Cooder, Lyle Lovett, Neil Young, Drive-By Truckers, Mindy Smith, Steve Earle, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and T-Bone Burnett.  And those are just some of the previous winners. 

I didn't learn about Tyler Childers for the first time last week.  No, with Tyler, I go way back . . . all the way to July.  In years prior, he's won many awards (including Americana Awards) and applause but he didn't show up on my radar until the media attention for this video.

It's a great song -- and that's what hooked me once I listened -- but, yes, the video -- and the media attention of it -- is how I learned of him.  It gave Tyler his first entry on BILLBOARD's Hot 100 chart where the song made it to number 43 and, on the country chart, it made it up to number seven.  

It's a great song, one he wrote with Geno Seale.  Look at the lyrics:

I will wait for you'Til the sun turns into ashesAnd bows down to the moonI will wait for you
It's a long, hard warOh, but I can grin and bear it'Cause I know what the hell I'm fighting forAnd I will wait for you
We were never made to run foreverWe were just meant to go long enoughTo find what we were chasin' afterI believe I found it here in your love
I will stand my groundI'm a bad man looking for takersYou're the finest thing aroundSo I will stand my ground
'Cause it's cold out thereAnd you know some men search for agesFor the love that I have foundSo I will stand my ground

Like any country music singer worth his salt, Tyler Childers knows a little something about heartbreak. Unlike most of the current crop of shiny Nashville honky-tonk pretenders, though, he also knows a whole lot about growing up in coal country. 

Childers was born and raised in Lawrence County, Kentucky, a stone’s throw away from the storied home places of country legends Loretta Lynn and Chris Stapleton (with whom he performed a stirring duet at the Kentucky Rising festival last year). His father was a coal miner; his grandpa, a tenant farmer, scraped a living out of the clay-rich soil. His music — a blend of country, folk and bluegrass (though don’t call it Americana), is steeped in that rural Appalachian upbringing and the lessons he learned at home in the hollows. Childers has come by his fan base honest, and has used his rising fame for good by speaking out about issues like racial injustice and religious intolerance. 

In July, Childers released the video for his new single, In Your Love,” a touching ballad about the hard work of true love. The video itself focuses on a tender love story between two gay coal miners in 1950s Appalachia. The two men, who are played by openly gay Hollywood actors Colton Haynes and James Scully, first meet in the mines, stealing glances at one another through the clouds of coal dust. After enduring harassment and violence from some homophobic coworkers, the pair move out to the country to start a farm and build a new life together. It seems like a fairytale ending.

But then Scully (who plays a young miner named Matthew) starts coughing soon after they leave the mines. It gets worse and worse, until he’s left hacking up black mucus and gasping for oxygen. Scenes of his wiry frame doubled over in pain and his partner’s worried eyes during a doctor’s visit follow, until he finally collapses in the field they’ve so lovingly tended together. They’re both in their early 30s, and Matthew has black lung. The dreaded disease is the reason he ends up dying in his sweetheart’s arms as the video comes to a close. His partner, Jasper, is left alone with his mule and his memories.

It’s a beautiful piece of short cinema that will shatter your heart into pieces, with a storyline written by Kentucky poet laureate and author Silas House, a close friend of Childers’ and one of the nation’s best-known queer Appalachian literary voices. As a gay teenager who loved country music, I could have never imagined seeing myself in a video,” House told People in a statement. That visibility matters. There have always been LGBTQ people in rural places and finally we’re seeing that portrayed in a country music video.”

Country music has a long history of rebellion against oppressive social and political viewpoints, and many of its best and brightest, from Charley Pride and Johnny Cash to Kris Kristofferson and Tanya Tucker, have spoken up for the poor, the downtrodden, the common man, the hard-working working woman, and everyone in between. Right now, the LGBTQIA community is under attack from all corners of the government, the legislature, and the media, and it’s heartening to see a country music star use his platform to show his clear and unequivocal support.

I love the video and I love the song.  So I planned to review the album when it came out.  But it slipped past me at the start of the month.  Seeing coverage of The Americana Awards and Honors reminded me to check it out.

My big question going in was: Is the album worth having?




RUSTIN' IN THE RAIN is a solid, end-of-the-year-best-lists album.  It's also one that you can listen to from start to finish and over and over.  

One thing on that, the death of CDs has had one good thing coming from it: better albums.

Some artists just don't have 16 or so songs in them.  And with CD sales crashing and vinyl's rising, we're getting some albums with shorter run times.  

SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND came out in 1967 and, for me, no one's ever improved on the Beatles' album.  It's the best of the rock era.  And it's only 39 minutes long.   Remember, that's not just music, there's also incidental music (the intro to "With A Little Help From My Friends" about "the one and only Billy Shears") and the reprise of the title track.  Other classic albums from the pre-CD era are under 40 minutes as well (unless they're double albums -- such as SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE clocking it at approximately one hour and five minutes) -- classics like DUSTY IN MEMPHIS (less than 33 minutes), THE SUREMES A' GO-GO (less than 33 minutes), ARE YOU EXPERIENCED (less than 39 minutes), LADY SOUL (less than 29 minutes), RUMOURS (less than 39 minutes), etc. 

An artist like Prince could easily and expertly go beyond 40 or so minutes (the 80 minutes of SIGN O' THE TIMES, the 70 minutes of 1999, etc) but most artists are not and were not Prince.  Instead, by the time the CD era is upon us, we were left with the reality that a lot of bands could have used some paring down.  For example, U2 got more and more bloated -- to the point that, in the end (see 2014's SONGS OF INNOCENCE), they couldn't give the album away -- though they certainly tried resulting in a lot of angry iTunes customers.  

Bonus tracks and hidden tracks -- key features of the CD era -- really only worked if the album itself was solid.  Many were not.

RUSTIN' IN THE RAIN is seven tight tracks.  The best of the six you may not know?  "Space and Time."

I never wanna leave this world
Without sayin', "I love you"
Without sayin' what you mean to me
You know you make me happy
Oh, when we, share this space and time
Want you to know you shape this heart of mine
And I never wanna leave this world, oh
Without sayin', "I love you"

SG Goodman wrote that song.  The title track and especially "Phone Calls and Emails" are stand outs.  But if they're looking for a second single and they're smart, the next one will be Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through The Night."

That song last hit the charts in 1980 with Willie Nelson's cover version.  But everybody's covered it -- Gladys Knight & the Pips (and had a hit with it), Joan Baez, Joe Simon (and had a hit with it), Tina Turner, Elvis Presley, Olivia Newton-John, Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mariah Carey . . .  But 53 years after it was first recorded, the song sounds new and alive with Tyler's performance.

Alive.  If I was asked for a one-word description of RUSTIN' IN THE RAIN, that would probably be it.