Tyler Childers’ “Universal Sound” Doesn’t Get The Love It Deserves

A man playing a guitar
Mia Naome

Tyler Childers gets a lot of love for songs like “Feathered Indians” and “Whitehouse Road” off his 2017 album, Purgatory. And rightfully so, because the entire album is a masterpiece.

But there’s one song off the album that never seems to get the love it deserves: “Universal Sound.”

“Up in Pocahontas, in the Cranberry Glades
Ain’t got bars, nor the charge to call her anyway
My mind’s a mile a minute, and my thoughts they bark like hounds
I focus on my breathing and the universal sound”

In the song, which Tyler has explained is about meditation, he sings about getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life (and Pocahontas County, West Virginia, is about as far away from the hustle and bustle as you can get) and being alone with just your thoughts and the sounds of the universe around you – the “universal sound.”

But he does it in a way that still manages to weave in the raw, gritty imagery that Tyler so often evokes in his songwriting – things like tobacco juice and mason jars of ‘shine – all while recalling simpler times. Times like when he was a baby and all he needed was a rattle and that “universal sound.”

“I think about tobacco juice and mason jars of ‘shine
I think about the vices I’ve let take me over time
I recall when I’s a baby, I didn’t need nothing around
But a little bitty rattler and the universal sound”

He then goes from his birth to thinking about his death – the day that they “put him in the ground” and he becomes part of the “universal sound” himself.

“I focus on my breathing and the universal sound
I let it take me over from the toenails to the crown
Of the body that I’m in ’til they put me in the ground
And I return to the chorus of the universal sound.”

That’s some damn poetry right there, folks.

And it’s all set to powerful guitar riffs and the cosmic sound of Sturgill Simpson’s production (some would go as far as to call this the reason it is his worst song).

I understand why songs like “Feathered Indians” and “Whitehouse Road,” and of course his tribute to his wife, “Lady May,” are often mentioned as the best songs from Purgatory.

But to me, “Universal Sound” deserves to be in that conversation too.

And here’s a bonus live performance from Red Barn Radio:

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