About William Tyler
I met William Tyler on a train going south out of London. He had nervous and cryptic and welcoming aura and was the first Nashville native (there is such a thing) that I’d ever met. We both carried more than we could manage on that trip, and I realized later that his bags were full of books. Books about psychology, philosophy, the Civil War, and astrology. Books — I realize now as I write this — about measuring and deciphering the boundaries of kindness and cruelty. William Tyler is interested in the human capacity for understanding ourselves; this is what I feel I mostly know about him now, so many years later. He is one of the most profound autodidacts I know, and he seems to be chasing knowledge in support of something he feels sure exists in all of us. The notes beneath the notes. Empathy might be the closest I can get to putting a name to it. Listen to his music and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
William and I bonded early in our relationship over Barry Hannah, a hellraising writer from Mississippi who practically reinvented the way that words could be assembled on a page. Like Hannah, William Tyler knows the South — as a crucible of American histories and cultures, an entity capable of expansive beauty and incomprehensible violence, often in the same beat — as his native place, the place that holds him and that he runs from. In the music of William Tyler, the South is not apart from America; the South is America condensed. And like Hannah — and this part is important — William moved to California, where Goes West was written. We don’t know how long William will stay — Hannah lasted just a couple of years, writing in the employ of director Robert Altman — but the change of scenery seems to suit him.
William’s new record, Goes West, is the best music that he’s ever made. I’m sure of this because I know and love all of his music intimately, and this album moves me the most, and the most consistently. The first time I heard it was in the late spring in the Texas Hill Country, rolling between limestone and scrub. I was on a cleanse then — no alcohol, no drugs, no evil thoughts — and was astonished at the emotional clarity that the album held. It offered up a model for what I wanted my head to feel like. Goes West marks a sort of narrowing of focus for William’s music; it sounds as though he found a way to point himself directly towards the rich and bittersweet emotional center of his music without being distracted by side trips. Perhaps
this is down to the fact that William only plays acoustic guitar on the album, a clear and conscious decision considering that he is one of Nashville’s great electric guitarists. The band that performs Goes West alongside William — including guitarists Meg Duffy and Bill Frisell, bassist and producer Brad Cook, keyboardist James Wallace, drummer Griffin Goldsmith, and engineer Tucker Martine — is the best and most sympathetic group of players that William could have assembled to play these songs.
The second time I heard Goes West, I was also in Texas and I was on LSD with my friend Brad and we were driving out of Marfa on Highway 90. It was around sundown and the music sounded like it was coming out of the clouds and dancing right in front of my eyes. I know that sounds exactly like what someone on acid would say, but the whole reason I took the acid in the first place is that I was looking for some peace of mind after a long, hot, sweaty summer. Goes West gave me that. We stopped the car and looked out over the expansive horizon and I felt better. We turned around and headed towards town.
—M.C. Taylor, Durham, NC