Following on from the record where people started to really take notice and particularly from the more recent EP here William Tyler has made another set of recordings that take on such a road-trip feel as to seem like they were recorded from the passenger seat of a moving vehicle, Tyler’s muse blurring along beside him as he plays what he sees.
Here then is another set of instrumentals – part Bill Frisell, part Mark Knopfler and yet entirely something else altogether.
This time around there’s an all-star band (Tyler had formerly been the guitarist for hire, Lambchop and Silver Jews, now he’s able to hook in Glenn Kotche on drums, Brad Cook and Phil Cook on keys, Darin Gray’s rumbling bass seems to pretty much just run alongside these tunes and I mean that in the best possible way…)
Actually everything falls behind in the rear-view mirror while this is happening, Tyler’s guitar is Steve Gunn-esque one moment (I’m Gonna Live Forever If It Kills Me) and Stefan Grossman/Harry Partch-esque the next (Kingdom of Jones). There are times when it is only his guitar that is driving the road-trip, but even then we can see – or at least feel – a cultural geography being added to, in the miles that pile up are Tyler’s past albums and the ghosts of so many players and styles.
Albion Moonlight takes us back toward some of Ry Cooder’s best soundtrack offerings, Kotche doing his best Jim Keltner, Gone Clear has that James Blackshaw weave of dense guitar fragments, Sunken Garden is Mark Knopfler noodling over a beat that is a displaced bossa for the country-crooner of your choice. Always, these songs seem forever tantalising as they hang and dangle, lyric-less, word-less, never just fragments though, always feeling like perfectly complete stories.
The bookending Highway Anxiety and The Great Unwind each stretch to around the 9-minute mark and are not so much the album highlights (for there really isn’t a duff track) but they contain the essence; they’re the road-markers, the opener has a hope to it, as if setting out on the journey, the soundtrack for what we’re about to see.
The closing track feels like Richard Thompson’s Grizzly Man score if Frisell or Henry Kaiser was sitting in over the top, it’s more a summation, the end of the trip. Sun-kissed and tired but elated we exit. We’ve travelled a Big Sur of the mind. And Tyler will roll on gathering more memories and miles and music. But Modern Country is his finest to date. You get the feeling it’s going to get even better than this too.