While a small part of me sits waiting for William Tyler to be offered a soundtrack project to showcase his amazing playing, composing and arranging skills, the bigger part realises that in some way Tyler has always been making soundtrack albums. This one, his latest, documents his journey from Nashville to LA, a new home and a slightly new sound. The previous record, the sublime Modern Country, was in fact my soundtrack album for a series of American road-trips around the west coast back when that album was just fresh. And as far back as his wonderful Impossible Truth Tyler was making road-trip music.
So it is with the deft country and folk feels of his newest release. It’s all at once different, more sombre and song-tight and yet it’s just another set of sounds for the next part of the journey – yours and his.
Bridging the spaces between John Fahey and Steve Gunn, William Tyler’s version of instrumental music is always moving forward, in much the way Richard Thompson’s musical scores have that perpetual pulse. You can almost imagine yourself staring out the back-window during an aimless car-ride as Alpine Star makes its start, kicking off the record and the latest part of the Tyler song-journey.
The meandering Knopfler-like electric guitars of Modern Country are on hold this time, it’s back to the folk fingerpicking of his time as a sideman to artists such as Lambchop, Silver Jews and Bonnie “Prince” Billy and to allow the guitar to provide aspects of the dance in and around drums and percussion and, on the softly-sprawling Fail Safe, shadows of electric guitar in support.
Not In our Stars has tranquility-for-the-soul baked deep into its composition.
Call Me When I’m Breathing Again has that deft turnaround this generation of guitarists, and the one before it, all seemed to learn from Davy Graham, but pieces like Eventual Surrender and Rebecca have deceptively simple folk tropes about them – yet feel like hearing music anew; that really is Tyler’s special gift both here and on his previous albums and EPs.
I can hear where Peter Green might once have gone on Venus in Aquarius, but most beguiling, most profoundly moving, is hearing William Tyler’s journey, emotional, musical and geographic being laid out like this (Virginia Is For Loners). Remember when Sufjan Stevens arrived on the scene with the backstory of being a gifted short-story writer and this ideal of documenting all of the states of America one by one in a long-running series of albums only to peter out after his first couple of attempts.
It seems Tyler might get there sooner, and in better shape, all without breathing a word into a microphone. As Bill Frisell is to jazz and the spaces either side of it, so William Tyler is to country and folk music. His Americana and his America is right here on Goes West. The latest iteration of the sound so deep in his heart and soul.