We first wrote about Athens, GA songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Key back in 2015 with the paranormal-inspired Grows Wings, then again in 2017 when he released Long Run the Fugitives. Both records displayed his distinctive and ambitious writing style, taking well-worn genre tropes and appropriating them for global events. As we described in a review of the latter: “Long Runs the Fugitives is an interesting fusion of the timely and the timeless, built on sturdy foundations of classic country/folk, but thematically very much rooted in the present day.”
Back with a brand new record, Local Support, Key has taken something of a new direction. Joined by Seth Key (electric guitars), Harrison Cloud (drums and percussion), Mark Plemmons (piano and organ) Robbie Horlick (saxophone) and Brad Gerke, Jessica Gerke and Ian Morrison (back-up vocals), the record represents Key’s most vivid and energetic release yet and places him firmly within the folk rock camp. This is made clear from opening track, ‘Change My Mind’, a fully-fledged country rock song complete with that playful barroom swagger.
I’ve been trying lately now to try and change my mind
I’ve been treading through the daylight without seeing the sunshine
I’ve been staring out the window
hoping for something that ain’t never gonna come
The walking man walks, the talking man talks, the running man’s gotta run
There’s a distinctively blue collar tone to the record, taking on the age-old themes of living and ageing in a land full of promise that never quite seems to yield. “Run of the mill old milltown blues,” Key sings on ‘Hills Like White Elephants’, going a long way to explain the record as a whole. Identity too, or perhaps the lack of it, forms an important thread. “You can lay my bones in Macedonia ground, or bury me by Indian Creek” goes the brooding shuffle of ‘No Difference Macedonia’. “It don’t make no difference to me.” Times are changing and history counts for little, let alone the romanticised version of it (moonshine has been replaced by Ambien and Xanax, by trucker’s speed).
The title track celebrates the modesty of the regional over the short-lived wider trends, while ‘West Bethlehem’ is the twenty-first century economic struggle through the classic country lens, pleas to employers and Jesus himself ignored without so much as an acknowledgement of receipt. The traditions of folk are once again present in ‘Living in a Song’, the bad luck and the blues and the attempts to escape, before ‘Mississippi Hallelujah’ closes the album with a fittingly epic finale. Clocking in at over seven minutes, the track is a lesson in the patient build, pitched in the no man’s land between golden dreams and empty promises.
Local Support is out now and you can get it from the Tyler Key Bandcamp page.