March 19, 2020
From Texas via Colorado, instilling this music with the grit of the honky tonk and the grand expanse of the American West, Tyller Gummersall is a singer and songwriter that rekindles the rugged lineage of the great cowboy poets and singing rancheros into beer-soaked ballads about the heartbreak in life that comes from real experiences instead of the regurgitated recitations of tired old country music tropes.
Traditional country to the core with three of the tracks produced by the legendary Lloyd Maines (the rest by Gummersall), this collection of twelve songs penned mostly by Gummersall himself, but with a few assists from Devon O’Day and the great Jim Lauderdale, is bound to slide under-the-radar due to the straightforward nature of the approach, but is determined to be heard by those willing to root out the best in traditional country, regardless of the general name recognition of the artist.
Heartbreak College provides ample opportunity for the listener to commiserate and identify, including some of the stories of romantic heartache like you hear in the title track. But what makes this effort so especially resonant at this moment in time when the Coronavirus blues have everyone on edge is how Gummersall speaks to the frustrations and crippling fears and anxieties of the working man, while also reminding us of the most important things in life.
Country music has always been the music that speaks most categorically to the blue collar and paycheck worker who spends a lifetime with mere days or weeks in reserves instead of months or years. Many songs have spoken to these notions, but “Working Man” by Tyller Gummersall does it better than most. The inherent unfairness in both life in general and within the country music realm is what Tyller lays out so well in the final song on the record, “Turned Around World.”
An album written and recorded well before the term ‘Coronavirus’ was part of the common vernacular, you could be fooled into thinking otherwise when you hear the song “I’m Not Dead,” which puts all of our daily gripes back into perspective, as does “Love Me When I’m Down” when so many men are facing the inability to bring home the daily bread at the moment. Further songs like “Fathers and Sons” and “How Did I Get Here” help to recalibrate current concerns to focus on what really matters in life.
You do ask yourself as you listen through Heartbreak College what it is that Tyller Gummersall offers that is inventive or unique in the traditional country realm beyond a name with two L’s. The music is great with Lloyd Maines steel and lead guitar, but what will separate him from the herd of traditional country performers? And though there are a lot of great songs here, a couple of lines on otherwise quality efforts probably could have been reworked a little better. The songwriting of Heartbreak College also gets better as the album goes on, so be patient if you find yourself a little underwhelmed at first. Gummersall saves some of the best for last.
Growing up working on the ranches of southwestern Colorado, Tyller started singing, writing, and performing at a young age in the dancehalls of the area, being taken under the wing of National Flat Pick Champion Gary Cook at the age of 8, and writing his first song at the age of 9. Now he’s trying to bust into the Texas country scene with his honest songs and straight laced approach. Though it’s a tough uphill battle for sure, it’s one Gummersall is built for, and his uncompromising sound makes him easy to root on.
In times of fear and trouble, we often turn to the tried and true things in life for assurance. The songs and sounds of country music are one of those rocks, those compass points to help keep our chin up and life in perspective, and Tyller Gummersall offers a great specimen of how and why that’s true in Heartbreak College.
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