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‘Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?’: Country music off the beaten path

The latest record from acclaimed country music singer Tyler Childers is a foray into experimentation rarely seen in the genre today. However, Childers’s 5th studio album “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?” is sadly unable to follow through on its lofty ambitions. 

“Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?” is a very strange album, especially for a country artist. Childers delivers a record that is simultaneously a single and triple album. There are only eight songs, but there are three different versions of each: a “Hallelujah” version, a “Jubilee” version and a “Joyful Noise” version. Thus, the first key issue with the album arises. It does not deliver much content but still feels incredibly bloated. Two of the eight tracks are purely instrumental on their original recordings, meaning we only really get six full songs, most of which fans of Childers will have already heard. 

This is not to say that the concept Childers envisioned is at all uninteresting. He starts the album with the “Hallelujah” versions which are simply the original recordings of each song. The “Jubilee” versions come next and are sonically very similar to the “Hallelujah” versions but add more unorthodox instruments like various strings, horns and even some electric guitar into the arrangements. These recordings add a little bit of texture to each song but are ultimately unnecessary. With a track list of nearly an hour and 45 minutes, the “Jubilee” version should have either been left off the album or presented as the original version of the songs. 

The “Joyful Noise” versions, however, are entirely different from anything else on the record and barely, if at all, fit into modern conceptions of country music. Essentially, they are the prior versions of the songs sampled and cut into strange amalgamations of sound. This is a really interesting technique for a country artist, especially one as popular as Childers. He defies conventional song structure in favor of a more free-flowing conception. Despite this, these tracks are, to say the least, annoying. Obviously, Childers knows how to write great songs, but the experiment he underwent on the “Joyful Noise” version was unsuccessful largely. It seems like he is editing his songs for the sake of contrarianism rather than out of musical passion or inspiration. These remixes come off as uninspired and flat and do not add much to the album.

While this record was by no means what I expected or much desired, there are still some positives, namely Childers’s songwriting. His lyrics hone in on his religious upbringing and present some serious contentions between his current southern outlaw lifestyle and the culture of Christianity from his childhood. The instrumentation is equally fantastic. His raspy and passionate vocals are some of my favorites in music today as a whole. 

Given that the opening track is a Hank Williams cover and two others are only instrumental, Childers’s “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?” does not present that much new material. When he sticks to his guns at the beginning of the three-part album, his songs are phenomenal as usual. However, the record is dragged down by its additional runtime. An album with the original eight plus maybe two to four additional original songs would be one of the best of this year, but the final product we ended up with is disappointing.

Artist: Tyler Childers

Album: “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?”

Label: Hickman Holler Records

Favorite tracks: “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? – Hallelujah

Version” and “Way of the Triune God – Hallelujah Version”

If you like: Colter Wall, Cody Jinks, Zach Bryan

Shamrocks: 2.5 out of 5