Tyler Key is trying to change your mind about Americana. It’s not all wide-brimmed Stetsons and songs about trains and other doses of nostalgia. Key’s been releasing albums under his own name since 2017’s Long Run the Fugitives, a sparse folk record that marked a departure from his bar-band roots. Wild Azaleas and Other Tall Tales is the third album by the Athens songwriter, and like 2019’s Local Support, he recorded it at Standard Electric with Damon Moon at the helm. This time he’s backed by a laundry list of talented family and friends, including his brother Seth Key on electric guitar, Ryan Moore on drums, Spencer Thomas on piano, Garrett Hibbs on bass, and Kimberly Simpson on backing vocals.
The title track does what Key does best, pairing potent storytelling and vintage-vibe rock and roll. The song rocks in a ‘70s Dylan meets Sticky Fingers-era Stones fashion with a country backbeat and a saxophone hook from Martin Anderson bleeding into electric guitar and gospel-chop piano. The layered narrative rewards close listeners. We get the story of a kid’s draft-dodger father skipping out on his young family, taking refuge in Tijuana, then returning years later like nothing ever happened. In the last verse, the kid asks his father about what he’d seen down there and quickly gets the silent treatment, nothing but buzzing cicadas and imagination. Been there, kid.
Key sprinkles this outlaw tale with period-correct imagery: the parking lot of an A&P, a T-top Pontiac, nods to Springsteen and Herb Alpert. It’s this mix of immersive songwriting and riveting detail that places this record a cut above his peers in the Americana genre.
“Last Rites” opens the album with a story of a vigilante who carries out justice from his hip. It’s a hefty track at over six minutes, but it never stalls or drags. It’s the story of a man who seeks out vengeance for his daughter in a town where law enforcement refuses to act. He considers the nature of freedom and how it has become distorted and abused. It definitely sets the tone for Key’s ability to craft compelling narratives.http://www.iamtunedup.com/tyler-key-wild-azaleas-and-other-tall-tales/
It’s no small feat to write an album that’s rich in lyricism and ultimately joyful. Each tall tale comes filtered through the voice of a unique narrator with their own set of circumstances to navigate, giving Key the agency to express himself through an ever-evolving cast of characters.Benji Katz (https://www.musiplug.com/blank-2/review-wild-azaleas-and-other-tall-tales)
I just love this kind of sound – that rolling country rock sway, burnished by a warm and melodic vocal that winds its way through the verses.https://posttowire.com/2021/08/03/new-music-tyler-key-wild-azaleas/
Loud salvos of guitar and roadhouse drums intermingle as he delivers lyrics that mix Springsteen’s energy with Michael Stipe’s elliptical prose.Immersive Atlanta on “Savannah Here I Come”
Using beautifully crafted wordplay and imagery of the rural Southeast, Key navigates us through existential crisis and rebellion against Southern Baptist roots, all the while waning guitar chords cry out in the background.Narah Landress, Creative Loafing