Along with Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers is one of the founding fathers of the indie country renaissance we are currently in for good reason. The Appalachian singer/songwriter has been consistently releasing some of the best music in the genre over the past 13 years.
From infamously calling out the Americana awards to racking up three nominations at this year’s Grammy’s, the Feathered Indians singer has quickly risen to living-legend status. With all that being said, he doesn’t truly have a bad song released to date which makes this ranking incredibly hard.
For the sake of simplicity, this list ranks all of the songs that are officially released and available on streaming services. That means that incredible songs such as Jersey Giant , Her and the Banks and Messed Up Kid will be left off this ranking due to them not having an official release.
Instrumental songs found on Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? and Long Violent History will also be left off the list for sake of comparison between songs containing lyrics.
One last note, I will only include one version of each song from Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? for the sake of simplicity as well.
Without further ado, let’s get into the ranking.
52. Heart You’ve Been Tending
51. Bus Route
50. Old Country Church
49. Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?
48. Long Violent History
46. Luke 2:8-10
45. We’ve Had Our Fun
44. Angel Band
43. The Harvest
42. House Fire
40. Honky Tonk Flame
39. Phone Calls and Emails
38. Ever Lovin’ Hand
37. Born Again
36. The Gospel (According to Fisherman)
35. Help Me Make It Through the Night
32. Coming Down
31. Good Thing Windin’ down
30. Country Squire
29. Percheron Mules
28. Whitehouse Road
27. Hard Times
26. I Swear (To God)
24. Peace of Mind
23. Long Hard Road
21. Rock Salt and Nails
20. Rustin’ In The Rain
19. If Whiskey Could Talk
18. Deadman’s Curve
17. Junction City Queen
16. Nose On the Grindstone
15. Way of the Triune God
14. Play Me a Hank Song
13. All Your’n
12. Space and Time
11. Banded Clovis
10. In Your Love
Despite the controversy surrounding the music video, In Your Love is one of Childers’ greatest songs to date. The sparse piano production lets Childers’ voice shine through in the best way possible. Though it might be a hot take, I believe that this is his best vocal performance to date. It might not have the rasp and edge that many of his older songs entail, but the polish and strength in each and every vocal run here is hard to ignore.
There’s something to be said about rawness and passion found in In Your Love’s lyrics. It’s not your traditional love song filled with flowery, poetic language. Instead, Childers takes a different approach, noting how he’ll fight and work for his love til his hands are “tired and bleeding.”
This diversion from your standard love song approach coupled with his powerful vocals make In Your Love an instant-classic.
9. Feathered Indians
Childers’ most popular song is popular for a reason; it’s simply infectious. From the iconic picking pattern in the intro to the eventual additional instrumentation throughout the rest of the song, Feathered Indians feels like a modern-day classic.
The song is an utter delight sonically, accompanied by every instrument that makes country music unique. There are touches of banjo, fiddle, mandolin and even steel guitar strewn across this track.
Also, how could I forget the iconic way Childers emphasizes the word “thicket” on the third verse? Feathered Indians is simply one of those songs that will never get old despite its massive popularity.
The incredible fiddle work on Purgatory alone gave the track a placement on this list. It’s one of those instantly-recognizable pieces of music that will immediately put you in a boot-stompin’ mood. Purgatory is Childers at his most bluegrassy, and it sounds lovely. From the aforementioned fiddle to the banjo, the track simply feels like a shot of adrenaline.
7. Follow You To Virgie
In a raw, acoustic performance in collaboration with OurVinyl, Childers recalls the memories he had with his childhood best friend, Cody. Follow You To Virgie feels just as hopeful and reminiscent as it does mournful. It feels like the perfect way to remember a lost loved one while still focusing on all the good times shared together rather than the loss of life itself.
His ability to paint this descriptive picture of his relationship with Cody makes it incredibly easy for the listener to put themselves in Childers’ shoes and recall their relationship with their childhood best friend.
Follow You To Virgie‘s lyrics ride a fine line between being extremely specific while also being extremely relatable. It’s no stretch to say that many people have their own Cody and Virgie which makes the song that much more impactful while listening.
6. Universal Sound
Produced by Sturgill Simpson along with the rest of Purgatory, Universal Sound stands out as the intriguing song on the album sonically. It’s truly hard to define the song’s musical style, sounding equally as traditional as it does modern. It’s a unique blend that makes the song feel like it’s something other-worldly.
Simpson’s ethereal tendencies really shine here and complement Childers’ lyrics wonderfully. Here, he plays with the idea that the titular “universal sound” lives in him and has guided him throughout his life. It’s one of those lyrics/concepts that can be interpreted in a multitude of different ways, and that’s what makes it brilliant. Is the universal sound a manifestation of God? Is it the shared human experience? Is it something else entirely?
Tattoos is arguably Childers’ most poetic song to date. The song comes across as more of a spoken-word poem at times compared to a song with the first verse especially feeling like a poem backed by some music.
The song captures the feeling of longing for an ex-lover incredibly well with lyrics like “I’m now her used to be. He is now the one she needs.” serving as an utterly depressing realization that the one he used to love no longer needs him. In true Childers fashion, he uses unique phrasing and word choices to make this simple concept stand out in an extremely lyrical way.
4. Bottles and Bibles
Simply put, Bottles and Bibles is a devastating look at addiction and religion. The way Childers depicts the dichotomy of the town preacher battling alcoholism shares heavy similarities to Paul Schrader’s 2017 film, First Reformed. Both the song and the film provide incredibly bleak depictions of what happens when men of God lose themselves to the temptations of the world.
Childers touches on the pressure that comes with being a small-town preacher and the hypocrisy that stems from the judgment of the townsfolk. The devastating lyrics paired expertly with the driving violin make Bottles and Bibles a haunting tale of a man who lost a battle between faith and addiction.
3. Lady May
There isn’t much to say about Lady May that hasn’t been said already; it’s a modern-day classic. From the simple flat-picking of the acoustic guitar to the reverent lyrics, the song focuses more on how the titular Lady May makes him feel and less on Lady May herself.
This results in a track that feels as authentic as a love song can possibly feel. The way that Childers describes the comfort and security around her is nothing short of perfection. In my opinion, Lady May is the gold standard for a modern love song.
2. Charleston Girl
You’d be hard-pressed to find a song that captures Appalachia better than Charleston Girl. From the twangy banjo in the intro to the drug-filled lyrics, the track perfectly captures the wild nature of many from the area.
The song contains some of the most clever, hilarious lyrics you’ll find in any country song:
“I don’t know if it’s the wine or the coke that makes her sound like her jaw is broke. She’s workin’ hard to make some sense but she ain’t got a dime.” still remains one of the most subtly funny lyrics ever written. The dichotomy between Childers’ reverent description of the titular Charleston girl’s looks and his pent-up frustration with her actions will always be a fascinating one.
1. Shake The Frost
If there is a song that truly defines Tyler Childers, it’s Shake the Frost. From the first lyrics, “You remind me of a Sunday back home in old Kentucky with the church choirs just beltin’ to the pines,” you’re greeted with an extremely poetic yet simple way of writing that, in a way, started the rise of independent country music we are seeing today.
The beautiful, image-filled lyrics are paired brilliantly with the subtly intricate instrumentation. The song switches from 6/8ths time to 4/4 between the intro and verses and is filled with incredible touches of fiddle, mandolin and guitar throughout. Shake the Frost is as close to perfect as a country song can possibly be.