Tag Archives: Eric Church

Sound ‘Round: Willie Nelson / Eric Church

Country boys sing for, and about, their heroes

Willie Nelson – Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin (Legacy)

Willie Nelson - Summertime Willie Nelson Sings Gerswhin

Uncle Willie’s creative well is drying up in his old age. Enshrined as one of America’s greatest and most prolific songwriters, the bulk of Nelson’s output this millennium is a mix of covers albums, takes on the American songbook and rehashes from his gargantuan discography. A few are inspired (2009’s “Willie and the Wheel”), some are forgettable (2002’s “The Great Divide”) and the rest splits the difference. This record finds the East-Texas native reinterpreting the works of song maestros supreme, George and Ira Gershwin. During a set of music that’s relaxed and brisk, the Gershwin’s East Coast lounge-pop is refashioned into the kind of Western-troubadour swing Nelson mastered along his journey into country iconography. At 82, his cool wheeze of a voice adds benevolence to the Gershwin’s playful rhymes and serenity to songs dripping with hopeless romanticism. Not everything is good vibes and sunshine. Nelson mutes such festivities on tunes where lost love allows him to ponder a looming date with death. Such melancholy is negated on a pair of duets wherein Sheryl Crow and Cyndi Lauper restore his playful ways and add validity to the ethos of age being nothing but a number. Instead of an exercise in the macabre, he spends his golden years celebrating the golden age of lyricism. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Somebody Loves Me” / “I Got Rhythm” / “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”

Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood (EMI Nashville, 2015)
Eric Church - Mr. MisunderstoodHis best album in six years gets meta concerning the joys of music. No surprise the instant anthem is “Record Year,” a pseudo-ballad wherein Church gets over an ex by listening to a stack of vinyl she left behind. He digs Hank, Willie, Jones and Jennings but also celebrates James Brown and Stevie Wonder. Label his multi-genre ode to the classics as pandering or merely conceited, but Church knows his audience desires more than honkey-tonk nostalgia. The teenage loser of the title track doesn’t crave the life of George Strait but that of Elvis Costello and Jeff Tweedy, the latter of which is referred to as “one bad mother.” More impressive than his eclectic iTunes library is a new-found sense of tranquility. While a song titled “Holding My Own” would likely have reeked of macho-rock bombast a few years ago, it is now a tender tribute to an embrace shared with his wife and three-year-old son. The littlest Church appears once more on the closing song to teach the old man a thing or two about life’s profound and simple lessons. “Say ‘I love you’ all day long / And when you’re wrong you should just say so.” May he always perform with the zeal of a child. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Record Year” / “Mr. Misunderstood” / “Round Here Buzz”

This article appeared in the March 11, 2016 edition of The Monitor

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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

Sound ‘Round: Eric Church / Gorillaz

Brief book keeping before vacation. 

Eric Church – Chief (EMI, 2011)

eric church - chief Though this North Carolinian’s third album recently passed the two-year mark, damn near half the track list still receives modest radio play, which leads me to believe he may just be the whiskey-guzzling country music Jesus he wishes would arrive. Though his break-out success can be chalked up to his twangy as fuck bravado, or his rowdy as hell charisma, or his cornball-free bouts of sensitivity, methinks it’s his sharp songwriting, which fully blossomed after two albums of growing pains. Hear how the hefty crunch and chest thumping openers sit comfortably next to teen-lite anthems and sad-eyed ballads which name check Springsteen and Jesus (again) respectively. Though he lets the Mr. Tough Guy act ride for too long – a side effect of the macho-centric Nashville industry – his sharp wordplay and expert brevity remind you there’s businessman’s attire behind those aviators.  GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Springsteen” / “Drink In My Hand” / “Like Jesus Does

Gorillaz – Demon Days (Virgin, 2005)

gorillaz - demon daysTheir self-titled debut was intended to be a high concept lark but turned into an oddball fluke as soon as “Clint Eastwood” crossed over. Having accidentally struck gold stateside and gained the autonomy from Blur he always wished for, Damon Albarn got wise and ditched the soupy experimentalism of dub culture, got serious and wrote paranoid pop songs about a world on the brink. In a decade which saw Top 40 juice up the escapism, these cartoons faced reality – capturing the fear, hopelessness and apathy of a post 9/11 world. Though the subject matter leans heavy handed and bleak, the lyrics rarely preach, and Albarn’s morose melodies prove hypnotizing in spurts. But aside from the auteur polishing his arty physique, the real muscle comes from Danger Mouse (a capable producer who has since cooled in notoriety), who lends a facelift to the music via his furbished beats and colorful sonic palette. Who else keeps the whole affair from being a dreary bore? A solid core of guest stars including MF Doom, Neneh Cherry, De La Soul and Dennis Hopper. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Feel Good Inc.” / “Kids With Guns” / “Dirty Harry