Tyler Childers Credit: David McClister

I can’t say I mind the recent shift of young country singer-songwriters embracing the 70s as creative inspiration—the tar-black darkness of Jamie Johnson or the cosmic vibes of Sturgill Simpson are both good examples. There’s something about the music these folks are making that doesn’t feel retro; the way their acoustic guitars, pedal steels, and rhythms support their observation-rich storytelling feels timeless. Earlier this summer Tyler Childers entered the fray with his impressive Simpson-produced debut album, Purgatory (Hickmen Holler/Thirty Tigers). Childers sings with a deep, natural twang that seems to be scuffed by a recurring catch in his throat, and it makes some of the extreme behavior he describes in his lyrics sound believable; on “Banded Clovis,” the narrator recalls how, drunk and high and “broke ass and busted,” he killed a friend for an old Native American arrowhead. On the bluegrass-driven title track he pleads with his lover to pray for him, as he feels she is his “only hope for heaven.” Childers’s bad boys may have a weakness for vice, but they also have a conscience. Purgatory features a killer band including Simpson on guitar, onetime Del McCoury bassist Mike Bub, Nashville fiddler Stuart Duncan, and pedal steel whiz Russ Pahl. Rather than sounding like they’re all phoning in yet another recording session, the veterans bring real spark to their arrangements and playing.   v