A religion professor by day, Tyler Atkinson carries with him a lot of existential concern, which loudly makes its way onto his debut recording, Vanity Project, Vol. 1. As concerned as he is, however, he tries not to take himself too seriously. No place is that more evident than the tongue-in-cheek opening line: “I’ve got all kinds of shit up in my bag." If you’re not careful, you might find yourself singing it in your kitchen or humming it during your daily commute. Which is just what Atkinson wants you to do. His songs invite response, be it confronting social ills or questioning the taken-for-granted narratives that shape our imaginations.
This release from China Wednesday Records—with its blend of country blues fingerpicking, ethereal pedal steel, bowed bass and funky bass, popcorn tin drumming, and old time banjo—is as inspired musically by its folk predecessors as it is the theological and ethical questions that animate its lyrics. With producer, Ryan Johnson of Silkworm Sound in Durham, NC guiding a stellar group of musicians (Alex Bingham on bass, Dale Baker on drums, Whit Wright on pedal steel, and Johnson on guitars), Vanity Project, Vol. 1 introduces the world to a singer/songwriter who is earnest even when he’s unsure of himself and the world around him. He may have all kinds of shit up in his bag, but he also has a thing or two to say.