Tyler Childers makes an eccentric return with ‘Can I Take my Hounds to Heaven’

With three separate versions of an eight-song setlist, Childers boasts originals, gospel covers and instrumentals in this expansive new album.

The album cover for “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven” by Tyler Childers. (Photo courtesy of Hickman Holler/RCA)

Hickman Holler/RCA

The album cover for “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven” by Tyler Childers. (Photo courtesy of Hickman Holler/RCA)

Caroline Lingle and Trystan Fogg

Resident country, folk and bluegrass crooner Tyler Childers returned to the scene on Sept. 30 for the first time since 2020. Childers collaborated with his longtime backing band, the Food Stamps. Their album, entitled “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven,” boasts a tracklist with eight songs–but with a twist. They present each song in three different styles: the “Hallelujah” version, “Jubilee” version and “Joyful Noise” version. Childers explained that the three different styles are a nod to “the Holy Trinity: The Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and what that means.” 

Childers is famous for singles such as “Feathered Indian” and “Lady May” from his 2017 album, “Purgatory.” He has combated drug and alcohol addiction for the better part of 11 years but has been sober since 2020. This part of his history often plays a role in his music, perhaps playing into his providence and praise of God in his songs. 

With no new music released in over two years, a triple album and promises of hope and a cultivated heart, it’s needless to say that we couldn’t wait for this release. Yet, we were apprehensive of how we would relate to Childers’ more spiritual approach to this album, as people who typically don’t find spirituality in their music tastes. Moreover, the album actually only boasts three new originals–the rest are either instrumentals or covers. Obviously, this created some skepticism among listeners. 

According to Childers, the album doesn’t aim to be overbearing to those who aren’t Christian, but rather, to implement a sense of providence in whoever may listen.

Message wise, I hope that people take that it doesn’t matter race, creed, religion, and all of that like–the most important part is to protect your heart, cultivate that, and make that something useful for the world,” Childers said in an interview with Stereogum. 

Childers and the Food Stamps recorded the Hallelujah versions live in the studio over the course of two days. The Jubilee versions incorporate instruments such as strings and brass, and the Joyful noise versions incorporate remixes and sampled voices, distancing that version from Childers’ typical sounds. We chose to review the Jubilee version in this article for the sake of simplicity, but all three offer their own promises and challenges.

First off, Childers covers Hank William’s old gospel number, “Old Country Church.” Childers delivers a cover with an eager, gospel tune, reflecting on his days in church. The traditional gospel song starts with organs but breaks down into a cheerful tune. It’s easy to dance along to this one, but those who aren’t religious, like us, might find themselves feeling a little bit out of place.

Second on the tracklist, the album’s namesake “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven” opens with a monologue, but Childers’ voice shines through immediately after. He sings “If I can’t take my hounds to heaven / If I can’t hunt on God’s land / I’d rather load my dog box up and go to hell with all my friends.” The perception of church and God presented in the first song versus in this one presents an interesting opposition. Furthermore, the Childers voice that we know and love takes the forefront in this song, making this one of our favorites from the album. 

“Two Coats” is the first instrumental of the set and features a twangy male monologue in the background–but not Childers himself. The song is easy to bop your head to, but as huge Childers fans, we were hoping for more tracks with his own vocals. We don’t think this song adds much to the album itself.

“Purgatory,” a remake version of Childers’ classic from his 2017 album, falls short of the original. The Jubilee version begins with cheerful wind instruments, sounding much more sophisticated than the quick-paced, banjo-strumming original. The original gives us the raw, classic Childers that we’ve gotten accustomed to, while the new one feels a little too buttoned up and polished for us. The new version adds another minute of song, with an impressive range of vocals, but doesn’t live up to the fast, raw twang of the first. 

The horns and catchy beat of “Way of the Triune God” will keep you swaying in your seat. This song feels like something to be sung around a campfire. The repetitive chorus chirps “Old time screamin’ and a shoutin’/ Go up tell it on the mountain / Faith too strong to be left doubtin’/ Way of the triune God.” The lyrics detail Childers’ dedication to the Lord and how he does not need earthly things, because Jesus has his back. It is a worship song encouraging people to follow Childers in his devotion. 

The title “Angel Band” speaks for itself. The song is backed by a gospel notion, declaring that Jesus is for everyone, not just a specific group of people. The song tackles one of the struggles that plagues the religious sphere, such as whitewashing and denominational segregation. Childers sings “just took a walk with Jesus / Just touched his nail-scarred hands / Didn’t even bother her / That he ain’t a blue-eyed man.” Childers released this single in anticipation of the album in both the Jubilee and Hallelujah versions, which in our opinion shows his intentions with the gospel emphasis of this album. As he sings in the song “there’s Hindus, Jews and Muslims / And Baptists of all kinds / Catholic girls and Amish boys / Who’ve left their plows behind / Up there in the choir / Singing side by side / Wondering why exactly / They been fussing the whole time.” Childers is using his lyrics to remind his listeners of the true purpose of praise and song: to come together as one to celebrate a communal belief. It is an album made with love, not hate. 

Though listed as an instrumental, the Jubilee version of “Jubilee” includes backtrack vocals that almost sound live. It sounds like somewhere far off, there is a female-sounding vocalist telling a story over the original instrumental track. Because of the many layers present in the song, the lyrics can be hard to make out. However, the song takes a joyful tone, most likely due to the nature of any jubilant celebration. 

Childers finishes the final track of the Jubilee version with a heavy beat that will make you want to stomp in your boots and bob your head. “Heart You Been Tendin” boasts soulful guitar melodies that carry listeners through the song as Childers reminds us that our heart is what we will take with us when we go. It is what we do with it that matters. This track sends us off with passionate vocals from Childers as well as a mid-song guitar solo, leaving the listener impressed by the band’s musical talents.  

If you are yearning for that folk-style country feel with a gospel message, this album may be for you. However, since we have seen Childers’ full potential, we must admit that this album didn’t fully live up to it. The experimental “Joyful Noise” version of the setlist is honestly anything but joyful to listen to, and is distanced from Childers’ typically organic vocals and classic lyrics. Also, for those fans who aren’t religious, this may be too far for you.