Review: Tyler Childers’ “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?”


Photo courtesy of Brooke Tramel/RooNews

Maddy Bremer, Writer

  Tyler Childers–our lord and savior of country music–has released a gospel album. 

  “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?” is a gospel-inspired triple album that sounds just like all the classic hymns you sang in church–until you read the lyrics. Despite its underlying theme of religion, Childers’ new album speaks more to the nostalgia of growing up in a country church than it does to Christianity itself.

  “There’s just one thing that I need to know before I settle down,” croons Childers in the titular track. “Can I take my hounds to Heaven? Can I hunt on God’s ground?”

  If there’s one thing about Childers, it’s that he doesn’t want to be like other country artists. “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?” takes on an interesting concept; the album features eight songs mixed in three different styles: “Hallelujah”, “Jubilee”, and “Joyful Noise”. 

  The “Hallelujah” recordings are more lowkey and offer a glimpse at what it might sound like on stage, recorded live with just Childers and his band. The “Jubilee” versions showcase the songs the way they were meant to be heard in their complete production, with a full brass band and a tone that sounds as much like jazz as it does country. The “Joyful Noise” mixes are meant to be background noise and nothing else, instrumentals with outside samples and recordings.  

  I could have done without the “Joyful Noise” section, but the “Jubilee” mixes made the album worth the listen. Two tracks stuck out as the real stars of the album: the “Jubilee” versions of “Way of the Triune God” and “Purgatory.” 

  “Purgatory” is a reworking of one of my favorites from Childers’ debut. “Purgatory” embodied all that made Childers’ first album, also called “Purgatory”, so incredible. What I loved about the original was its authentic bluegrass sound with its snippy use of the fiddle. “Purgatory” especially– but the first album in general–reminded me of my grandpa playing bluegrass classics on his old Taylor guitar. 

  However, the reworking wipes the dust off the record and turns “Purgatory” into a glamorous jazz track with enough brass to turn your eardrums green. However, the flashy new additions don’t strip the meaning away from the song; they add a new layer of polish. 

  “Way of the Triune God” makes me nostalgic for all the mornings I spent in Sunday school. Not for church per se, but for the way going to service felt when I was younger. The song has a childlike quality, not in substance, but for the feeling it gives you. 

  A line from the song, “old time screamin’ and shoutin’/go up, tell it on the mountain,” sounds like a hymn my friends and I would hum along to when we should have been quiet during the service. 

  This sense of nostalgia was present with me throughout the album. 

  I have listened to Tyler Childers for several years, but I was apprehensive when I found out he was releasing a gospel album. I grew up as a member of the Methodist church, but religion isn’t really my thing anymore. However, I remembered that I was hesitant to even listen to Tyler Childers in the first place. 

  I was raised in a small town in rural Missouri with chickens and cows in my backyard. Yet I spent most of my life trying to distance myself from the country. I had nothing to do with country music until I heard the song “Feathered Indians” for the first time. 

  What drew me to Childers’ music was his willingness to talk about the things that made me want to separate myself from rural life. Childers speaks often and poignantly about the kinds of things you don’t hear in country music; he sings about racism, getting stoned, and existential questions about the universe. 

  He has a way of critiquing the stereotype of rural people while opposing the problematic ideology often found in the country. He’s been doing this since before “Purgatory’s” release in 2017, and his previous album “A Long Violent History” continued this trend. 

  “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?” is no different. Despite its religious themes, the album covers everything from sobriety, to doubt, and universalism. The album is less about the gospel and more about the experience of growing up in an “Old Country Church” (conveniently, the name of the first track). The album embodies the spirit of a country church: a place of music, culture, and community. “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?” isn’t about God–it’s about how you feel when you step into his house.

[email protected]