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Eric Church - Chief

Eric Church releases his best album yet.

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Eric Church - Chief album cover

Eric Church - 'Chief'

Image courtesy of EMI Nashville Records

After switching record labels and getting kicked off Rascal Flatts’ tour for running his mouth (reportedly), Eric Church returns with a third album that’s perched to be his commercial breakthrough.

All the rough edges are still unsanded and, alongside Brad Paisley’s This is Country Music, Chief ranks among the finest country albums of 2011.

90 Proof Songs, No Chaser

Eric Church has always been fond of barroom tales. And if you like country drinking songs, you're in for some good news: Chief is fully stocked.

Exhibit A is “Drink in My Hand,” an unapologetic ode to boozing off the workday. But be warned, it'll make you want to start hitting the bar before six -- even if you sort of like your job.

Kicking the album's dynamic Southern rock into overdrive is "Keep On." Call it a country version of R. Kelly’s “I'm a Flirt.” The style is different but the lesson is the same: Don’t bring your girl to the bar if you don’t want the singer to steal her.

While there’s plenty of ‘tude in supply, what distinguishes Eric Church are his storytelling skills. One imagines they were honed over countless afternoons, evenings, and late nights lounging aboard a bar stool.

Stellar Songwriting

We step out of the barroom and into the daylight with Chief’s first down-tempo track, the romantic ballad "Like Jesus Does." Does comparing your loved one to the Messiah seem in poor taste? Probably, but Church's sincerity somehow pulls it off. (See Hayes Carll's "You Left Me for Jesus" for a more humorous variation on the phenomenon.)

Revving on a slow funky groove, the country-soul concoction "Hungover and Hard Up" might not stand out on first listen but is one of the album's top tracks -- mixing humor, vulnerability, and fatalism in the way that hangovers can and usually do.

"Homeboy"

The single that heralded Chief as an album to watch out for was "Homeboy." Anchored by banjo, fuzz guitar, and handclaps, the song gently pushes at the boundaries of what country music is considered.

The same could be said of the album as a whole. Church isn’t particularly interested in obeying conventions or, for that matter, avoiding them. The singer is unafraid of extolling the virtues of country living, cold beer, and trucks -- or of using hard-rock instrumentation on songs whose lyrics are pure country songcraft.

Bottom Line

Altogether, it's positively refreshing to hear a country album that isn’t pure polished Nashville product or a throwback to traditional country styles. It's blazing its own trail, speaking in its own voice. And how country is that?

Eric Church’s Chief will appeal to fans of Alabama, Larry Jon Wilson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and everyone in between.

By year’s end, I’ll bet you a beer it’ll be on my list of 2011’s ten best albums.

Best Songs on Chief:

Track list for Chief:

1. “Creepin”
2. “Drink In My Hand”
3. “Keep On”
4. “Like Jesus Does”
5. “Hungover & Hard Up”
6. “Homeboy”
7. “Country Music Jesus”
8. “Jack Daniels”
9. “Springsteen”
10. “I’m Gettin’ Stoned”
11. “Over When It’s Over”

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