MAGNET’s #4 Album Of 2016: William Tyler’s “Modern Country”

williamtyler

While it could serve beautifully to soundtrack any number of settings and situations, the genre-straddling Nashville guitarist’s latest opus is particularly well suited to the open road; it seems somehow self-evident that the second word in its title refers not to musical categories or nation-states (even if this is deeply, indelibly American music) but simply to the countryside—a point emphasized by the gently trippy road-movie video for the serenely majestic “Highway Anxiety.” William Tyler sometimes gets lumped in with the Fahey-ist American Primitive types, and he’s plenty proficient as picker. But this album isn’t at all about technique or soloistic flash—even “Kingdom Of Jones,” the lone acoustic fingerstyle rag, is relatively restrained. Rather, it’s the fullest blossoming yet of Tyler’s gifts as a texturalist, a small ensemble composer and, above all, a melodist. If there’s a clear point of comparison, it’s Bill Frisell’s phenomenal turn-of-the-century Americana albums, which approached similar sonic landscapes from the opposite side of the (imaginary) jazz/folk “divide.” But Tyler’s on his own trip here, one that’s rustic and graceful; economical yet expansive; modern, sure—but, more importantly, timeless.

—K. Ross Hoffman

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