At a fevered time roiled by anxiety and hatred, what more healing antidote is there than love? Tulsa native and respected multi-instrumentalist Jared Tyler’s third album, Dirt on Your Hands, celebrates romance, to be sure, but also the grounded, loyal love of family, friends, and characters who illuminate one’s life with lightning-bolt intensity.
Thematically, it builds on 2010’s Here With You, which was informed by Tyler’s mounting dismay over the country’s direction. “I felt like, ‘Hey, y’all, wake up, it’s all about love,’” he recalls. Dirt on Your Hands is a rootsier, more compositionally focused Americana set bookended by paeans of devotion to his partner, and livened by sparkling romps (“Lucky I Am,” the pedal steel-washed “Fort Gibson Lake,” the Dobro-grooving title track) that dispense homegrown wisdom passed down by Tyler’s grandparents. At times he sounds like Darrell Scott’s kid brother, vividly evoking cherished people (“Gwendolyn”) and places (the beautifully melodic “Norway”) with his soulful tenor and nimble fretwork on guitar, Dobro, mandolin and ukulele. The longtime Malcolm Holcombe sideman also warmly interprets two of his boss’ songs, with gravelly harmonies from Holcombe himself.
Tyler has recorded eight albums with the “super inspiring” Holcombe (two of which he produced) and toured with him throughout North America and Europe, opening for the likes of Billy Bragg, Merle Haggard, Shelby Lynne and Wilco. On his own, Tyler has opened for Karl Denson and Nickel Creek, and relished performing onstage alongside heroes Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller after Harris sang on his 2005 album Blue Alleluia.
Those enlightening experiences burnished Tyler’s artistry, and readied him for a broader stage on which to share his openhearted stories. Dirt on Your Hands is his most relaxed, truly realized album, recorded live in the studio with guitarist Kenny Vaughn, bassist Dave Roe and drummer Dave Dunseath, with additional contributions from virtuosic fiddler Casey Driessen, harmonica player Jellyroll Johnson, songwriter/pianist John Fullbright, clarinetist Mike Cameron, slide guitarist Seth Lee Jones and pedal steel player Roger Ray. Elements of bluegrass, country, gospel, pop, swing and Hawaiian music joyfully color images from Tyler’s past, and suggest a vision for his musical path forward.
Although the affable Tyler twice lived in Nashville, he’s now happily rooted with his partner in the supportive Tulsa community where he grew up singing in church, and where his grandfather taught him to play mandolin. It was there, too, that he developed his songwriting craft and performance chops alongside peers like Fullbright, Parker Milsap, Stoney LaRue and John Moreland (who invited Tyler to play on his last two records). He says Tulsa’s “humble nature” is what separates it from other music enclaves: “We’re all in it together. There’s gentle competition for gig slots and all that, but we’re all friends.”
That generosity of spirit infuses Dirt on Your Hands. Any childhood misfit can relate to the hard-won triumph of “A Little Tonight”: “I did my best to fit right in/ It was hard it got old and painful/ And it damn sure made no sense/ Love does not just happen/ Life don’t make it right/ You can live right through what kills you/ Guess I’ll live a little tonight.” “I wrote that song and honestly, I didn’t even know if it made sense,” Tyler says with a laugh, adding that songwriter friends urged him to record it. “It gets down to the heart of what I’ve been through.” The galloping “Heart Wide Open” offers an antidote to the reckless incivility of today’s political climate, and to people of all religions ranting about end times: “What’s with all this talk about the end/ The trees and the flowers don’t worry with the wind/ Part of a circle that comes around and back again…/ Every day we’re livin’ in the light/ Flowin’ like a river through the darkness of the night.” The life-affirming hope it expresses is intentional.
“I like to juxtapose the super sad with the hopeful. A lot of my colleagues made millions off beer-drinking party songs, and there’s nothing wrong with that; we need those. But I’m not the person to write them. If I’m going to spend my time writing a song and sharing it, I’d like it to be something people can relate to that’s going to leave them a little better.”