Eric Church - The Outsiders

Capitol/Decca



Eric Church is boldly taking country music into fresh new directions as he steps out of the usual Nashville comfort zone with this, his fourth studio album. This is a bigger record, with bolder sounds, a broader scope, and more complicated songs. He throws his baseball cap into the ring with the opening title song, which recently became his sixth top ten country hit. Utilising his acclaimed road band, he turns it up into an electric guitar-and-drums-snap, Hank Williams-meets-Bad Company rocker. To a traditionalist that could be counted as heresy. We forget, however, that Hank himself had traditionalists of the day screaming bloody murder when he broke out with his bluesy honky-tonkin’ in the 1940s. Not all of the songs are as heavy as that, but they are all rooted in country music themes of heartbreak, family, home and darker issues such as murder, death and the devil. They all hang together as part of a whole album rather than a disparate collection of unconnected songs.  Eric Church is one of the few country artists who has the kind of creative clout to conceptualise a wide-ranging, self-indulgent piece of work like THE OUTSIDERS. He’s also one of the few who can pull it off with such panache.

He taps into a broader palette of emotions than he has on past releases, eschewing melancholy and eloquently channelling anger and frustration into gritty, hard-driving guitar parts that complement his rough-hewn vocals. Should you doubt his honky-tonk credentials, then just log-in to the Dobro-driven Cold One. Yeah it rocks, but didn’t ol’ Waylon rock just like this some 30-odd years ago. However, it is Eric’s country boy phrasing that is the icing on the cake as he shows us with the bluesy freight train roll of Roller Coaster Ride. I’m a sucker for a well-written rural yarn and for me, Talladega ticks all the right boxes. Eric’s increasingly rangy baritone hangs tough throughout a shimmering, wide-ranging production that deftly traverses smooth acoustic country. The wistful Give Me Back My Hometown, shows us his softer, reflective side and is the ideal counterpoint to the heavier tracks.

Adventuresome but never pretentious, this is an artist with no limits—commercially, musically or otherwise. Layered, complex songs that manage to remain airy in spite of the dense amount of tracking packed into each one, Eric Church succeeds in the exact places a ‘big’ record should—diversity, virtuosity—while graciously staying out of its own way. He bites into this whole album with such enormous emotional hunger that you’re practically breathless by the time it’s over.

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