David Childers has been through hell. Along the way, he's romped with giant reptiles ('95's Godzilla! He Done Broke Out;) went to some folks' version of hell, Nashville, to record '98's Time Machine, which he later declared to be stiff and artificial; teamed up with Don Dixon for '03's Room 23, which rates as his favorite; preached the gospel behind bars on '06's Jailhouse Religion; then toured the nether regions roasting on a spit ( '07's Burning In Hell.)
'08's O Glorious Day, recorded as the Overmountian Men with Avett Brothers' bassist David Crawford, showed a more mellow version of Childers than his rockabilly-dusted Mt. Holly Hellcats or the harder rock of his later outfit, The Modern Don Juans. Son Robert, on drums, is a rocker at heart, and punches out a stiff supporting framework. There's some hardcore country on this one as well, with “All Out Of Diamonds” sounding like an outtake from a long-lost Merle Haggard session.
Childers got religion on '14's Serpents of Redemption, but it ain't gospel in the conventional sense, Childers tackng on a Bo Diddley beat to narrate the story of the world's first murder, “Cain and Abel,” re-creating the high and lonesome feel of an Appalachian church on “ How 'Bout You.”
For his latest, even though he calls his current band the Serpents, the title cut reverts to his Mt. Holly Hellcats rockabilly sound. Son Robert is back on drums, pounding out a stiff framework supporting Dale Shoemaker's twangy surf guitar, Childers laying down some Jerry Lee-style vocals on top. Scott Avett sets up the tone with a poem about two drunkards' offspring who never got a word of thanks for his bank robbing career and died “so cold and sober his corpse never stank.''
In addition to his songwriting, harp, guitar, and vocal skills, Childers is also a poet with an MFA from UNC-G, his '77 thesis a book of poetry called American Dusk. He recalls wowing the crowd at one of his poetry readings from the book with the lines “there was a roar and then the sky rained wing-tip shoes.” There's nothing quite so esoteric here, but Childers' word manipulation skills make this stuff jump out and grab you.
Childers channels Merle Haggard on the blue-collar ballad “Greasy Dollar,” with Avett contributing Bakersfield-flavored harmony vocals. “What good is living and what good is dying/ if this is all I'm ever going to do,” Childers moans, as he spends his days digging ditches witha highway crew to earn his greasy dollars.
Childers stays in Bakersfield for “Collar And Bell,” re-animating Buck Owens ghost for a fiddle greased honky tonk hoe-down.
“Ghostland” is pure Swamp pop, a blend of fifties-era Cajun, r&b and country style crooning that came out of Louisiana and Texas. Childers really gets his croon on here, getting at least one foot in Conway Twitty's shoes.
“Promise to the Wind” sounds like a Waylon Jennings tribute to Marty Robbins, a very cool genre shakeup with Geoffrey White's Western Swing fiddle floating smoothly over Robert's rockin' backbeat.
Childers emulates Billy Joe Shaver's writing and singing on “Goodbye To Growing Old,” Childers promising “I'll get on with the game/ I ain't about to fold...And I ain't about to say it's time/ to surrender to anything.”
Around '07, Childers became so disillusioned with the biz that he wanted out. “I failed at it,” Childers said back then. “A lot of critics liked it. We’d get great reviews, radio stations would play the stuff. But the bottom line was that I was just losing money. We were just playing a kind of music that I guess is outdated and just didn’t connect to many folks anymore.”
Luckily for all of us, Childers rebounded, and with the help once again of producer Don Dixon(R.E.M., The Smithereens, Chris Stamey,) with Bob Crawford and label head Dolph Ramseur executive producing, Childers is back with one of his most memorable and insightful records to date, the connection still secure, his signal strong.