Chief marks Eric Church’s third album release and stands as a testament to the continued growth and development of one of country music’s brightest young talents. Church received much critical acclaim over the last few years for his first two albums, which included a handful of hit songs, but none that charted higher than #10 on Billboard’s Country Chart. Well, the winds are a changing my friends because it seems like the folks at Billboard and country fans in general are finally embracing Church’s rough-and-tumble style. Chief, released in late July, debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 (for those of you who don’t know, this is all artists – not simply country). It’s a major credit to Church’s promise as a future headliner, and he certainly has the talent to back it up. A singer-songwriter, Church has never been one to shy away from some controversial (to say the least) topics. Most notably, his song “Lightning” from the Sinners Like Me album tells the tale of a prisoner’s final moments before “riding the lightning” from the perspective of a...um…murderer. It’s a brave and moving song, and although predictably it received little attention from country radio, it’s more proof that Church A) isn’t afraid to tackle tough subjects other artists might shy away from and B) really doesn’t give a damn about what is or is not popular with country radio. Slightly controversial and outspoken, poignant and hard-rocking, Church is on a roll. Anyway, some thoughts on Chief:
- Overall, the album is extremely up-tempo, which is a nice change from some of Church’s earlier releases. I think it was a conscious decision and I think the album is better off for it. There’s no doubt Church can kill a ballad, but he really excels with the rock-infused songs that make up the majority of this album.
- “Homeboy” was the debut single release from this album, and it’s a very interesting song to say the least. Completely different than anything out there on the radio right now and another tougher topic (the song recounts the story of two brothers who followed two very different paths). It’s heart-felt and the driving melody works great for Church. Kills it when the music cuts out in the bridge.
- “Country Music Jesus,” despite receiving some airplay, is largely forgettable. The instrumentals are too loud in the chorus and drown out the vocals. Went a little overboard with the rock feel in the background. Lyrics are good nonetheless. “Drink in my Hand” also falls in the forgettable category. The tune is very cliché, lyrics are pretty shallow, and overall, it just sounds too generic.
- “Hungover and Hard Up” is a complete disaster. The song has no direction, and I honestly don’t have a great idea of the story he’s attempting to tell here. The falsetto parts are weak and seem out of place. It looks like the song finally finds itself in the lead-up to the chorus (after the falsetto part – “Get on down the highway…”), but then it veers off course again.
- Now for the good: “Jack Daniels” is right in Church’s wheelhouse and it’s a format we’ve seen before on earlier albums (it’s very similar to “Leave my Willie Alone” from Carolina). It’s a great example of keeping things simple – a few guitars, an informal feel (you can hear the guys joking around in the background), and a simple, tried-and-true guitar riff. It’s almost as if they were just messing around after recording one day. It’ll never get any airplay but its enjoyable nonetheless.
- Aside from “Homeboy,” which has already peaked at #13 on the country charts, the two other songs that stand to be hits on this album are “Keep On” and “Springsteen.” Lets start with the latter. I’m not a huge fan of artists offering songs as tributes to other artists – it fails about 10 times for every one time it works – but Church manages to pull it off here. It’s constructed in the “hit” format if you will. You can tell the producers decided this was going to be one of the singles from this album and one of their best shots at getting some serious airplay. Despite the Springsteen references, the lyrics are, unexpectedly, very good and the song is really catchy. It feels a little similar to Tim McGraw’s “Red Rag Top,” but Church makes it his own. I give this a 6/10 shot at being a hit. “Keep On” couldn’t be more different than “Springsteen.” With aggressive, heavily-rock infused instrumentals, the song displays both great lyrics and Church’s vocal range. The tune is well-worn and certainly nothing new, but Church basically jumps up an octave when he hits the chorus. The verses test the lower limits of his range and the chorus pushes the upper, and there’s nothing we like more at Urban Cowboy ™ than artists pushing their vocal limits. I give this a 6.5/10 chance at being a hit, just because it’s a little too “rock-esque” and short to be a major hit, but its great nonetheless
Overall, an excellent effort by Church who’s star is certainly on the rise.