Sound ‘Round: Eric Church / Tinariwen

Guitars are still a thing, ya know

Eric Church – The Outsiders (EMI Nashville)

eric church - the outsidersIt’s hard to posture and portray yourself as a Nashville outsider when your prior album busted the charts, went double platinum and got you invited to Lollapalooza. It’s even harder when your highly touted departure plays up the very pitfalls you’re decrying: an excess of beer, guns and pigheaded machismo. Nevertheless, Eric Church attempts to bid farewell to a scene inundated by the ills of frat-bro culture and give country music the kick in the ass it deserves. Though his lone wolf shtick falls flat lyrically, even his soft side is undercut by limpdick metaphors: a breakup he likens to a roller coaster, comparing his penis to a wrecking ball (ugh) and NASCAR-centric nostalgia that will surely resonate with its target audience. Musically, he’s more adventurous. The title track sports a tricky prog-rock bridge that leans more Metallica than Montgomery Gentry, and the sudsy stomp of “Cold One” benefits from a playful brass section. There’s a lot going on here, at times too much. Leave it to two ballads to salvage the occasion – a small town tearjerker remarkable for its absence of corn and a tranquil meditation on Church’s midlife crisis. GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: Cold One” / “Give Me Back My Hometown” / “A Man Who’s Gonna Die Young

Tinariwen – Emmaar (Anti-)

tinariwenThe first notable African release following a banner year for African music was recorded in the sands of California and fueled in part by Mexican food. A band of nationless Tuaregs in self-imposed exile, they fled their home region of Northern Mali as it succumbed to violence instigated by religious extremists. These 11 songs, all alike in polyrhythmic groove and bluesy sunbathed guitars, double as encouraging words for friends back home and prayers for peace and reconciliation amidst the bloodshed. A sampling of translated lyrics: “Friends, companions, hear my truth and my conviction / These banishments that befall us bring no joy to my heart.” “Peace imposed by force is bound to fail / and give way to hatred.” “My brothers, why all the misunderstanding?” “I no longer believe in unity / I will only believe in it again if those opinions serve a common ideal / That of the people from which they emanate.” Even if you didn’t know the subject matter, however, you’d still grasp their deft melodicism, punctuated syncopation and the intricate exactness of the music. Here’s wishing a homecoming occurs sooner than later. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Timadrit in Sahara” / “Aghregh Medin” / “Toumast Tincha

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