Eric Church is one of the last outlaws left in country music. He knows who he is and isn’t afraid to show it. He’s an interesting artist in this age of crossover and bubblegum pop country, since he’ll be the last person to ever go that way. Eric is rowdy, loud, but proud: and he’s not about to make any apologies about it. He has a distinctive voice and reminds me a lot of Steve Earle. He’s the kind of guy that doesn’t care what people will think of him, he writes what he does and sings what he wants to. It works for Eric, and it’s always believable. He’s got the attitude mixed with his Southern accent to pull it all off perfectly.
“Chief” is Eric’s third album and already has two hot singles from the effort - “Homeboy” and “Drink In My Hand.” The 11-track album, ten which are co-writes, is a great effort from Eric, reflective of the new outlaw country sound we get these days from Miranda Lambert: Southern rock intertwined with country music. That’s what it is to be an outlaw these days, and Eric knows how to sell it. “Chief” deserves a spin or two by any country music fan that isn’t too fond of the cross-over obsession currently taking over the charts. Eric’s the solution to that. He’s the outlaw of country right now.
“Chief” starts off with “Creepin’,” a track that I wasn’t sure how to take at first. He wanted to start off the album differently, and the beginning of the song isn’t something I expected from the rocker at all. The co-write with Marv Green has a great beat that explodes into a full-out rock session halfway through the dirty little track. He loves the effects in the song, and although at times it feels like he pressed every button he could find in the studio: it works. I wouldn’t call it one of my favorites on the album, but it gets better when he starts rocking out on the single. I’m not sure how this will sound live, since much of the effects used aren’t very easy to re-create live. It will be interesting to see the live adaption of the studio version.
“Drink In My Hand” is his current, and catchy, single. It might be his most radio friendly single to date. The usually polarizing artist seemed to have found an in-between, groovy little song that serves as an ode to drinking. The co-write with Luke Laird and Michael P. Heeney is definitely one of the highlights on the album. Lately, the drinking theme has been completely overplayed by artists, and will just make me roll my eyes, but Eric found a different, and catchy, way to bring it up without seeming like it’s been-there-done-that.
“Keep On” is the third track and another one of the rockers. I think it’s stronger than the opening song, and potentially a future single from this record. The choruses, and Eric’s vocals, have a classic rock feel to them which I find quite appealing. It’s a hot track and one of my favorites from the album. Some have complained that it drags on, but I love it. It’s something we don’t hear on country albums these days.
We take a break from the rock anthems with “Like Jesus Does.” It’s a pretty little ballad where we see the serious, and loving, side of Eric – something that’s rare. It’s very mainstream, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be the third single from the record. It’s something no one thought they’d see from him, which is why I think it would be a perfect next release for the singer. It would be a little bit of a shock for the country fans that know him for his brash, rowdy, loud-and-proud side. It’s a pretty little song that I really do enjoy. It’s the one song that Eric didn’t write on the album, but he still plays it well.
“Homeboy” was the first single from the album and the fifth album track. It starts off slow, with a highlight on his lyrics about how he hates how cool and tough his old friend is now by trying to be a city boy with the pants down low, gold teeth; the whole hip-hop culture. It’s the second verse where he kicks it back into his signature country-rock. I love this song, and it was the right choice for the first pick from the album. It’s classic Eric Church, and a great city boy vs country boy anthem. While a lot of mainstream artists have covered this subject the last year, (Blake Shelton – “Kiss My Country Ass”, and Miranda Lambert – “Only Prettier”), I think this is the strongest of those released.
Eric brings his favorite subject, drinking, back up again on “Jack Daniels.” It’s a funky, playful little song with a highlight of “Jack Daniels kicked my ass last night.” Haven’t we all had one of those mornings? I do love this song, it’s funny, and it’s actually pretty well written. I don’t think it’s mainstream material; but he never does have a lot of that on his albums. It should be one of the high points in his live shows if he incorporates it.
“Springsteen” is his tribute to the one and only. It’s a creative song with a sound that I can’t really remember being on other artists’ records. It’s catchy, smooth, and has a great beat. It’s a potential single from the album that could do pretty well for the outlaw. It’s a great song, and one that has high re-playability. It should be relate-able for a lot of country fans.
“I’m Getting Stoned” is my least favorite track on the otherwise great album. It feels like it was put there just to prove that Eric still likes to push the envelope and that he’s still the same guy he was on “Carolina.” It’s a good song that fits his image like a glove, but it just feels like it was put on to prove a point. It takes away from “Springsteen” which is just before this single. It’s a rocker, but I’m not too fond of this one. “Smoke A Little Smoke” is still the superior song.
“Over When It’s Over” brings the album to a strong closing. It’s another funky little rocker. He’s trying to introduce some new sounds to country, but he does it well. He has a little bit of the pop-electronica sound to the background of this track; which you can also hear in the opener “Creepin’.” It’ll be hard to bring all the wow factor from this song live, especially with a great female backing vocalist that’s on this track, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can achieve it live. It’s a great song to choose to end it with, even if this song won’t make it to the mainstream radio.
Eric is country’s solution to those artists that are trying to follow Taylor Swift’s footsteps into pop stardom. He’ll never be one to buy into that, and “Chief” is one rocker of an album. Eric is determined to bring back country to where it should be. Some critics have been critical of him for his attitude or arrogance over his work, but that’s just who he is: he’s country’s newest bad boy and he plays the role perfectly, even if he tries too hard to push the envelope sometimes.
This is a great album that I’d recommend to anyone sick of the pop taking over the country charts lately. Based on the sales of “Chief,” it looks like there’s a lot of fans that feel that way. Unfortunately, with Miranda Lambert releasing a new album in November, Blake Shelton’s star on the rise, and Lady Antebellum’s release out today; there isn’t a lot of room left for album of the year nominations for Eric.. but maybe he can pull off a Dierks Bentley “Up On The Ridge” and find a way in to the album categories next year. Here’s hoping. His album is that good. Eric is bold, maybe too bold for some, but he’s a refreshing change to country music today.
“Chief” is available everywhere you can purchase albums. Let us know your review in the comments below. Do you think he deserves an album of the year nomination at at least one of the award shows next year?
RATING: 8.5 out of 10
DOWNLOAD: Drink In My Hand, Like Jesus Does, Homeboy, Springsteen.