Das Debütalbum Sinners Like Me des in North Carolina geborenen Country-Rock-Singer-Songwriters trat 2006 eine Lawine los. Hemdsärmelige Hymnen wie "How ‘Bout You" und "Guys Like Me" neben dem ironischen "Two Pink Lines" (über einen Schwangerschaftstest) fanden zu einer neuen Generation. Die US-Presse verortete ihn in den Fußstapfen der berühmten "Outlaw"-Bewegung (Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson) der `70er und `80er.
Hohe Erwartungen, die Church zwei Jahre später mit dem zweiten Album Carolina erfüllte, dessen Geist auch erklärte Nicht-Country-Fans erfasste. Der Durchbruch zum Superstar gelang dem Sänger und Gitarristen im Sommer 2011 mit seinem dritten Album Chief (mit den Hitsingles "Drink in My Hand" und "Springsteen"), das Platz 1 der US-amerikanischen Pop-Charts eroberte, für zwei Grammys nominiert wurde und diverse Country-Preise abräumte.
Nach diesem großen Wurf hat Church sich jede Menge Zeit gelassen. "Die meisten Künstler nehmen nur Singles auf und hoffen, die irgendwann auf einem Album unterzubringen. Ich mache direkt Alben und hoffe, dass es daraus Singles gibt", erklärt der Baseballmütze, Bart- und Sonnenbrille tragende Shooting-Star. "Ich kann das nicht anders herum, und ich habe sehr viel Respekt vor dem Prozess eines Albums."
Churchs im Februar 2014 veröffentlichtes viertes Studio-Oeuvre The Outsiders hat (wie alle seine bisherigen Alben) der Roots-Rock-Pate Jay Joyce (The Wallflowers, Patty Griffin) produziert, der auch Co-Autor einiger Album-Songs ist. "Mit Jay fühle ich mich im Studio sofort vertraut", sagt Church, "und das lässt uns in die Tiefe gehen und experimentieren".
Church begann mit den Songs von The Outsiders während seiner Blood, Sweat and Beers-Tour 2012 (seine erste Stadion-Tour als Headliner, auf der ihn eine Million Zuschauer erlebten), wo er das neue Material gleich auf der Bühne testen konnte. Höhepunkte des Albums sind der hardrockige Titelsong (der mehr nach Linkin Park und Kings of Leon als nach Country klingt, das Rock-Magazin Spin wählte ihn bereits unter seine "50 besten Songs des Jahres 2013"), eine dramatische Darbietung des düsteren Gedichts "The Devil and Billy Markham" von Shel Silverstein und das an Tom Waits und J.J. Cale erinnernde "The Joint".
"Ich habe diese Theorie, dass wir alle nur ein kleines Zeitfenster bekommen, in dem wir Platten aufnehmen können, welche die Leute wirklich mit Interesse hören. Es hängt es von uns ab, da etwas zu bewegen. Leute wie Waylon und Cash und Strait nahmen das Format und sagten `wir tragen das jetzt da und da hin´, und sie änderten alle etwas den Kurs des Genres."
Seine Furchtlosigkeit verpasst dem heutigen Country und Southern Rock wieder das nötige Feuer. Church verbiegt sich nicht, er geht immer aufs Ganze und möchte dem Genre seinen Stempel aufdrücken. "Ich hätte mich nicht unbedingt so aus dem Fenster lehnen müssen", bekennt der 36-Jährige, "aber ich glaube, das würde niemand etwas bringen. Wenn man der Musik gegenüber Respekt hat, nutzt man jede Chance, einer ihrer Fackelträger zu werden."
Contemporary country singer and songwriter Eric Church has been on a roll since 2006. He's had a slew of charting singles and albums, won Top New Solo Vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards for 2010, and in early 2011, both the Caldwell County EP and "Homeboy" -- the pre-release single for Chief -- hit number 13 on the chart. That said, he hasn't reached the commercial heights -- yet -- that peers such as Jason Aldean and Justin Moore have. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, because Church is having it both ways: he scores consistently enough to keep his label interested, but also maintains his independence to a degree, which turns on his fans. Church co-wrote 10 of the 11 songs on Chief. Once more teamed with producer/guitarist/bandleader Jay Joyce, he delivers a collection that, on the one hand, stays close to his outlaw pose -- in the new contemporary country sense of the term -- while being firmly entrenched in the music's mainstream. "Homeboy" offers a taste of the kinds of streetwise characters Church seems to prefer to write and sing about (even if they are him at times), though the production is atypical of the rest of the set. “I’m Gettin’ Stoned” commences with a National Steel guitar and a thumping tom-tom before winding its way into neo-blues-rock before pulling in the reins; his lyrics bemoan the fact that an ex is getting married while he's left to get wasted alone. It's a new kind of "cryin' in your beer" song. “Drink in My Hand,” with its ringing, open '70s rock guitars (why does everyone these days ape the opening of Little Feat's "Easy to Slip?"), and sharp crackling snare, defiantly state that no matter how oppressive his boss is, he cannot ruin the experience of his own cold beer once the work day is done. "Springsteen" isn't so much about the Boss as it is a nostalgic ode to an early love and the memory of the legendary songwriter's music as an accompanying soundtrack to it. It's a clever, if somewhat cloying, tune, but it gets the feeling across in spades. "Country Music Jesus" is a paean and a prayer, a rockist wish for a "long haired hippie prophet who preaches from the book of Johnny Cash" to save what's left of the tradition, and then evokes the spirit of Charlie Daniels to underscore it. Chief is defiant, well-conceived, and more carefully executed than it sounds, with some excellent songs. While it doesn't break any new ground and remains firmly entrenched in contemporary country's geography, it evokes the riled-up, bluesy hard country rock sound of Hank Jr. enough that it separates Church from the genre's other practitioners who are attempting the same thing.
Words: Thom Jurek
Just in case the title of The Outsiders doesn't give away the game, Eric Church takes pains to strike a defiant stance throughout his fourth album, underscoring his status as a genuine Nashville Rebel. He sings about his "Dark Side" and the Devil, murmurs ominously about "A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young," winks a double entendre about "The Joint," and declares "That's Damn Rock & Roll," a provocative statement from a singer who is nominally country but loves to strut with a heavy metal swagger. Church brings on the thunder with "The Outsiders," a galumphing rallying cry that's intended as a middle finger to all those cheerful bros in tight-fitting jeans who sing songs about trucks set to a hip-hop beat. He may sneer at those good-looking suburban country dudes riding the top of the charts but Church is a modern man -- he decorates the kiss-off "Cold One" with a skittish electronic funk beat -- who doesn't take a second glance at the past, unless it's to tip a hat to Hank, Hag, Jones, or Waylon or to deliver the slow-burning Southern soul of "Like a Wrecking Ball." Contrary to the bluster of "The Outsiders" and "That's Damn Rock & Roll," Church doesn't follow the macho straight and narrow on The Outsiders. Surely, he never disguises his masculine side but sings sweetly, too, and he indulges in detours, the craziest being the prog pomposity of the eight-minute suite "Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness)." Most of all, he takes strides to paint himself as the heir apparent to workingman's hero Bruce Springsteen -- previously, Church only poached Bruce's last name for one of the biggest hits from 2011's Chief, the album that turned Church into a star -- going so far as to write an anthem to dying middle-class America called "Give Me Back My Hometown." Designed to be a set closer at arenas across the U.S., it delivers the requisite fireworks but Church possesses a sly eye for detail that humanizes his broad strokes, a necessary counterpoint to songs that are otherwise outsized. This shift toward the epic -- present throughout The Outsiders but not always dominating the tone -- is a real shift for Church, who has otherwise specialized in songs that are a little simpler. That directness played a big role in making Chief a hit and it's sometimes missed on The Outsiders, as the XXL-sized songs don't always stick but the ambition is admirable. Church has made the conscious decision to try a little bit of everything in his quest to be a savior to both rock and country, and if he doesn't quite knock it out of the park when he swings for the fences, he nevertheless scores.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
"The Man in Black woulda whipped your ass/And I don't think Waylon done it that way" -- Eric Church on "Lotta Boot Left to Fill"
It's a great line that Eric Church means when he sings, but he can't quite convince listeners that he's in the outlaw tradition of Cash, Waylon, and Hank. Church sings like a manicured model, striking all the poses and hitting all the notes, but missing that essential grit. Of course, he isn't helped out by the production of his second album Carolina, a recording that gleams pristine, designed for two drinks at an after-work smokeless bar, not a long booze-filled night at a honky tonk dive. It's a commercial sound, one that puts Carolina firmly within the mainstream, and it also fits the contours of Church's voice. No matter how much he sings about being "Young and Wild" and how he likes to "Smoke a Little Smoke," he sounds like a guy who wants to cut loose but can't manage to shed his inhibitions, which kind of keeps Carolina in a bit of a straitjacket, never sounding as big and brawny as it wants to be. Church fares better when things get a little less macho, when he slides into the ballads like "Where She Told Me to Go" or tunes that are a little sprightly, like the poppy "Without You Here" and the wistful title track. Although there's a bit of a puppy-dog charm to Church's yearning to be bad, it's these softer numbers that suit his talents, and he'd be better off relying on this instead of trying so hard to be wild.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
At a time when country music was sliding deeper and deeper into a soulless pop rut, Capitol Records Nashville took a chance on North Carolina native Eric Church and his hard-edged music. With one foot planted firmly in the Haggard tradition and the other in the outlaw style of Waylon and Hank Jr., Church stormed onto the charts with his debut album, Sinners Like Me. He grew up listening to the old-school sounds of the Hag and his outlaw brethren, but he also had one
ear tuned to the rock & roll sounds rumbling from the other side of the tracks. Sinners Like Me is a cool country-rock hybrid that is far removed from the lameness that is usually associated with the 21st century country music scene. The boot stomping grit of "Before She Does," an electric guitar steeped number that has Church wailing that Jesus will be back before the girl who left him high and dry will, sets the tone for the entire disc. Raw and real pretty much sums up the 11-track collection. One minute Church is reflecting on an old pair of boots that have seen him through many hard times on the mandolin smoked "These Boots," the next he's slipping into the skin of a death row inmate in his final moments on the lump-in-the-throat "Lightning." If you look up the word "authentic" in the dictionary, you just might see a picture of Eric Church.
Words; Todd Sterling
As he preps his fourth album, Eric Church pays tribute to the time-honored tradition of releasing a live album while the iron is hot. And so there's Caught in the Act: Live, a 17-track set recorded at the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga, Tennessee as he supported his career-making 2011 record Chief. In concert, Church is brawnier than he is in the studio -- witness "Creepin," where such subtle production tricks as backward guitars are stripped away so it just barrels by on drums and guitars -- but this isn't a bad thing, as macho swagger is integral to his appeal. He makes no bones about his debt to Waylon or allegiance to Hag but Church knows this isn't the '70s, and he cranks up the amplifiers so they fill an arena and let his rhythms hit hard, so much so that when "Smoke a Little Smoke" ends with a quotation from Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf," it doesn't feel out of place. Curiously, Caught in the Act concludes with Church's sweetest moments -- "These Boots" and "Springsteen" -- which means apart from the brief respite of "Sinners Like Me," this is as intense and heavy a country concert album as has ever been released. It may not convey some of the subtleties and shading of Church's music, but this is an easy way to mainline the neo-outlaw singer at his hardest.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine