William Tyler & The Impossible Truth
Tennessee-born guitarist, songwriter, and producer William Tyler began his career in the early 2000s touring and recording with acts as diverse as Lambchop, Wooden Wand, the Silver Jews, Bonnie Prince Billy, Candi Staton, Charlie Louvin, and Rhys Chatham. Having established his reputation as a versatile and supremely inventive guitar ace, he then launched a solo career that focused on instrumental, often experimental compositions that pulled from a variety of styles, from sparse American Primitive to pastoral country-driven rock and folk. Albums like 2010’s acoustic Behold the Spirit and 2016’s expansive full-band effort, Modern Country, were widely hailed by critics. After relocating to California, Tyler returned in 2019 with the bucolic Goes West album and the soundtrack to the indie film First Cow. He also collaborated with guitarist Marisa Anderson on 2021’s Lost Futures and in 2023 translated selections from his back catalog into live band arrangements on the Merge-released double-album Secret Stratosphere.
Born and raised in Nashville, Tyler is the son of Dan Tyler, a lawyer-turned-Music Row songwriter whose chart credits include hits with Eddie Rabbit, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Oak Ridge Boys, Kenny Rogers, and LeAnn Rimes. The younger Tyler’s first recording band was the Paper Hats, who cut two albums: 2004’s Come and See and 2008’s Desert Canyon. In 2010, his first track as a solo artist, “Between Radnor and Sunrise,” appeared on Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthems, Vol. 4 compilation, followed almost immediately by the universally acclaimed Behold the Spirit.
Tyler continued touring as a solo artist and working as a session musician. His sophomore effort, Impossible Truth, was released by Merge in early 2013, and over the next couple of years, he continued touring as a headliner and opening for other artists, including Hiss Golden Messenger. He also appeared on the band’s Haw (2013) and The Lateness of Dancers (2015) while finding time to produce Jake Xerxes Fussell’s debut album in 2015. During a sabbatical in Oxford, Mississippi, Tyler began writing new material based on what he felt was either lost or vanishing in American music. He decamped to April Base Studios in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and began cutting basic tracks for an album. His session players included Phil Cook, bassist Darin Gray, and percussionist Glenn Kotche. The project was completed in Nashville. Recorded and mixed by Jon Ashley and co-produced by Tyler and Brad Cook, the expansive all-instrumental Modern Country was released in mid-2016 to widespread acclaim. Basing himself in Los Angeles, he returned in early 2019 with Goes West, another meditative full-band affair on which he played only acoustic guitar and was backed by fellow guitarists Meg Duffy and Bill Frisell, bassist Brad Cook (who also produced), keyboardist James Wallace, and drummer Griffin Goldsmith. After these two full-bodied ensemble releases, Tyler’s next project was quite spartan by comparison. Tasked with scoring director Kelly Reichardt’s gentle frontier film First Cow, the guitarist scaled back to the essentials, creating a pleasingly spare and winsome soundtrack featuring only himself on guitar, banjo, dulcimer, and various other instruments. Consisting of his score and assorted snippets of dialogue from the film, Music from First Cow was released by Merge in March 2020. Later that year, Tyler offered up a seven-song solo project of tranquil solo electric guitar called New Vanitas. After a limited digital run, it received a more widespread release the following summer. 2021 also saw Tyler collaborating with kindred spirit Marisa Anderson on a collection of guitar duets called Lost Futures. For his next solo effort, Tyler recorded live with a band consisting of players who’d been a part of Silver Jews, Margo Price, Dead Weather, among others and revisited various tunes from earlier in his discography. The performance took place in Huntsville, Alabama in May of 2021, but wasn’t released until March of 2023 when Merge issued the album under the title Secret Stratosphere. The seven songs were mostly longer pieces, sometimes sprawling out past the ten-minute mark, and were released on vinyl as a double-album. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi