William Tyler is a Nashville guitarist and composer. He spent years woodshedding and touring with Nashville groups like Lambchop and Silver Jews before breaking away to focus on his own version of instrumental guitar music.
2010’s Behold the Spirit, William Tyler’s first album under his own name, was celebrated by Pitchfork as “the most vital, energized album by an American solo guitarist in a decade or more” and established him as a critical favorite, the picker who, according to his friend and tour mate M.C. Taylor from Hiss Golden Messenger, “connects the dots between Sandy Bull, Richard Thompson, Bruce Langhorne, and Reggie Young.”
Modern Country is the fourth full-length album by guitarist and composer William Tyler and his first recorded outside of his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. It features an ensemble backing group consisting of multi-instrumentalist Phil Cook (Hiss Golden Messenger, Blind Boys of Alabama), bassist Darin Gray (Tweedy, Jim O’Rourke), and percussionist Glenn Kotche (Wilco). The album was tracked at April Base Studios in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and finished in Nashville, recorded and mixed by Jon Ashley, and produced by Tyler and Brad Cook.
While there is never a comfort zone in instrumental music, Tyler attempts to leave any perceived one behind with Modern Country. His first album for Merge, 2013’s Impossible Truth, found Tyler exploring the boundaries of composition for solo guitar in a manner that paid homage to everyone from Leo Kottke to Brian Wilson. It was an epic song cycle that veered from cathedral-like psychedelic hymns to pastoral folk melodies. In contrast, Modern Country finds Tyler exploring more focused melodic themes rather than ethereal wanderings. These aren’t pop songs, per se, but they are closer in spirit to Neu!, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and Bill Frisell.
Primarily written while Tyler was on sabbatical in Oxford, Mississippi, where he stayed at the cabin of a family friend within a stone’s throw of William Faulkner’s house, Modern Country is a collection of songs about the vanishing America that still exists on back roads, in small towns, on AM radio stations. In an election year when so many certainties and assurances have vanished, Tyler doesn’t offer optimism or pessimism but rather a calm and measured commentary in our age of anxiety.
William shared the inspiration behind the song: “Kingdom of Jones” is dedicated to the memory of the people of Jones County, Mississippi, a small county in the southern portion of the state that seceded from the Confederacy during the Civil War. The county became a haven for Confederate deserters and those opposed to the War. I like the idea of it, a tiny kingdom in the heart of the Deep South that fought actively against “The Cause” and gives a more complex tint to the reality of what the War was about. As someone who is proud to be Southern but struggles constantly with the weight of the history of my homeland, I like thinking about the people of Jones County during the War. They must have realized something that a lot of people still haven’t figured out.
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