Nothing about Tyler Childers’ Long Violent History should work. Yet everything does.
It’s a statement LP, yet it’s mostly instrumental. It finds Childers standing with Black Lives Matter against a backdrop of old-timey fiddle music. And it opens with a creepy rendering of “Send in the Clowns.”
Childers, who plays fiddle exclusively, is joined by a band that includes Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin on mandolin and Josh Oliver on guitar; fiddler Jesse Wells; and Dom Flemons on virtually everything else including banjo, bones, quills, jug, bass drum and harmonica. Together, they burn through seven additional trad tunes such as the mournful waltz of “Midnight on the Water” and the celebratory high step of “Sludge River Stop,” before Childers makes his point.
He does it with the title track, the album’s one original, the only cut with words. And Childers’ words are chilling as he endeavors to make rural white people have some empathy for others while he keeps his empathy with them.
“It’s called me belligеrent, it’s took me for ignorant/but it ain’t never once made me scared just to be/could you imagine just constantly worryin’/kickin’ and fightin’, beggin’ to breathe?/how many boys could they haul off this mountain/shoot full of holes, cuffed and layin’ in the streets/‘til we come into town in a stark-ravin’ anger/looking for answers and armed to the teeth?”
It’s powerful enough on its own. Coming after what precedes it makes “Long Violent History” all the more so. And Long Violent History is the album that shouldn’t work, yet is instead a masterwork of protest music.