In light of Eric Church leading the list of nominations for the looming CMAs, I thought I’d review his 2011 album which helped him get these nods, ‘Chief’. He’s known for being a rocker, and this album solidifies that whilst showing a variety of styles and themes. It begins with a heap of twang on ‘Creepin’’, in the picked guitar and acoustic percussive sound. Then, as expected, the beat kicks in, as do the rest of the instruments. Distorted guitars and a heavy drum beat rule this track, and it’s a great way to start the album, particularly the creative take on the lyrics, which describe trying to escape from the pain of a lost love, but constantly find it ‘creepin’’ up again. It’s full of some powerful imagery such as, “That need you back comes over me, like ivy crawling up a hickory tree, just a creepin’”.
The album takes a different turn when it switches to the very Luke Bryan-esque party anthem, ‘Drink In My Hand’. It taps into that typical honky-tonk ideology of the ordinary working man needing some down-time after a long week, and all he needs is a drink to do it. I can see why they chose this as a single because although the chorus lyrics vary a lot, the main hook is easy to sing along to, it’s a bouncy song and a lot of people will relate to the lyrics.
Next is ‘Keep On’. It launches in with a memorable distorted guitar riff and drums, then the twang makes the appearance that I’ve come to expect from Eric. Until this album I had never listened to him, but I’ve found that he toes the line nicely between country and rock, incorporating elements of both. It’s a sound that many artists have been picking up and finding commercial success with lately, but it’s a little more polished with most of them and despite being one of Nashville’s biggest stars these days Eric still manages to keep an edge. This song narrates a story of a fight breaking out in a bar because of two men fighting over a woman’s love for the night. It’s a cheeky song, playing a lot on the theme of ‘keep on looking at me that way’. It’s a rockier take on a modern honky-tonk feel and really works.
Eric then changes tone again from the bar songs to a quiet ballad, ‘Like Jesus Does’, beginning with strumming muted strings and gradually building up to the chorus, with steel guitar taking prominence. It’s a sweet ode to the narrator’s partner and his Lord, saying that while he isn’t a perfect man, he’s a country sinner, but Jesus still loves him and so does his girl. From the image of the tough, drinking man, it’s a nice change and shows a more vulnerable side to Eric which we don’t see too often. This moves into arguably my favorite song on the album, ‘Hungover & Hard Up’, which is again quite different to what has come before, and has an incredible chilled bluesy feel giving it a great vibe. Even Eric’s vocals appear relaxed, and a front porch jamming session comes to mind. Underneath the vocals there’s a lot going on so it’s worth a few listens. It’s quite a cheerful sounding song, considering the depressing lyrics. Like ‘Creepin’’, this song describes trying to get over lost love by drinking it off his mind, but to no avail. I would definitely recommend this song above all the others because it has such an interesting sound and accompanying melody.
The next song, ‘Homeboy’ is a little tongue-in-cheek and describes the plight of a kid who is into a hip-hop lifestyle, hence the word ‘homeboy’, and leaves his hometown to live a different life. The narrator knows who he really is inside and asks him just to come “home…boy”, creating a clever play on words that Eric seems to be pretty good at. It begins with an acoustic guitar and a dobro until the chorus begins and the atmosphere just fills. The second verse introduces the big distorted guitar sound Eric is known for and the song really builds, just like ‘Like Jesus Does’, before dropping right back down for the bridge and then kicking back in with the full production and a rockin’ guitar solo.
‘Country Music Jesus’ is a really fun song, implying the state of country music, and needing a country music Jesus to save it. It’s full of epic lyrics such as ‘there’ll be fire on the mountain’, and just as a few songs on ‘Chief’, it really builds up well, making full use of the banjo and the drum kit. This is obviously designed to play live and get the audience involved, and it definitely makes me laugh. The following track, ‘Jack Daniels’ has an emphasis on an acoustic guitar picking beat that you can’t help but bop to, and I’ve noticed that Eric is not only great at writing catchy riffs and lyrics but also really infectious beats. This song is more musically understated than some of the previous ones and not as full on with the production, which is a nice bit of respite. It sounds more traditionally country than some of the other songs on this album and shows Eric’s versatility. The song, as expected, is another mourning of a lost love and drinking it off his mind, with the amusing phrase ‘Jack Daniels kicked my ass again last night’.
Following this, we go into the beautiful ‘Springsteen’, the most commercial song on the album, with romantic, nostalgic lyrics and a very singable chorus. After that we get the instantly Southern rock vibe of ‘I’m Gettin’ Stoned’, full of twang as is Eric’s trademark, and a very active drum kit filling in every beat. It tells the tale of a man getting stoned on the day of his love marrying someone else. “She got a rock and I’m gettin’ stoned” is the hook, and this is another tribute to the honky-tonk genre but by this point the self-destructive love-related song is starting to get a little repetitive. However, ‘Over When It’s Over’, the last song on the album, doesn’t stretch the theme to breaking point because it takes a slightly different stance.
This song is slightly more commercial than the rest, and I think it may be a final single. It’s a lot less ‘country-sounding’ than the other tracks, but little additions such as prominent female vocals added to certain lines and her singing various ‘oooh’s over the top make it worth a few listens. It really adds something to the song and sounds more like a duet than anything else. It details the end of a relationship, but it seems to take a cheerful stance, like a ‘it’s for the best, it was good while it lasted’ notion. It builds up to a dramatic peak with the two singers singing back and forth, dropping right back down to complete the album.
Overall, this album is a great record, with a huge amount of variety in sounds and ideas, although it’s tied together with a theme of bars, lost love, and ‘badassness’ that Eric seems to carry around with him. I would definitely recommend buying this and I look forward to Eric’s first live album coming in 2013.
You can buy the album here.
CMTT Music Contributor
For my blog that examines issues in country music and responds to the latest news with my opinion, go to forthecountryrecord.tumblr.com. For ranting, funny retweets and all round silliness, follow me on Twitter @planmymistake