Track of the Day: 'Highway Anxiety'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

For sheer beauty, William Tyler is one of the top guitarists working today. A longtime sideman (Hiss Golden Messenger, Silver Jews, Lambchop), his solo records have largely been just that—dominated by Tyler’s guitar, which thanks to his drone-y finger style fills up a lot of space with minimal accompaniment.

On his new record, which came out on Friday, he adds a band, including Phil Cook and Wilco’s Glenn Kotche. Here, the band opens up rather than filling musical space—it’s equal parts Bill Faulkner (near whose home in Oxford, Mississippi, Tyler wrote most of the record) and Bill Frisell. It’s called Modern Country, which seems like a joke, given that it’s all instrumental guitar music. Much Americana is obsessed with lost folkways, but it isn’t always this cerebral of political; Tyler cites George Packer’s The Unwinding in his notes to the album.

One reality of playing as a mostly solo artist is that you spend a lot of time driving alone between gigs. That’s especially stressful for Tyler, as he explained when I saw him last summer, because a few years ago he found himself having near-panic attacks at the prospect of driving on the interstate. He wrote this song as a salve for his own worried mind, but it’s a good salve for other anxieties, too.

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