Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Eric Church: The Outsider Who Came in From The Cold

At exactly the one-minute mark of the song “Broke Record,” perceptive listeners will notice Eric Church’s inside joke — the record skips. Deliberately. Of course, it isn’t a record and cannot skip; the glitch has been built in digitally. But look at the song’s title — perfect.

It’s just this sort of smart musicianship that makes The Outsiders, his wildly adventurous latest album, a mind-blower that rewards both those fans who have followed his particular brand of musical expression since the beginning, as well as those persuaded to check him out because he’s become Rolling Stone’s country darling.

If there’s anything that even a first listen of this album will tell you is that it’s not business as usual. It transcends genre, for one thing. Sure, Church is unabashedly a country artist — but the independence he’s insisted on during his career has paid off in having the cajones to release a record who pays dues to no-one. Notice is given immediately in the opening title track, which rattles with metal guitar riffs and overlays, soaring after a particularly sexy guitar rip that practically says “we ain’t done yet, no sir.”

“Wrecking Ball” delivers heat through a vocal track high on reverb, complete with a Hammond C-3 accompaniment which strongly recalls Procol Harem’s “White Shade of Pale.”

"Roller Coaster Ride" includes pure synth touches and ugly low-key piano before lifting us up on a rise that pops your stomach the way a real roller coaster does. 

There’s a spoken word intro to “Devil Devil,” a cautionary tale, which was recorded in a parking lot on a phone.

Any song titled “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” requires a kick-ass female voice wailing in the background, and this one has it in Joanna Cotton’s gutsy vocal. The Rock & Roll featured here is reminiscent of glam rock in the best possible way.

“A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young,” “Dark Side,” and Talladega” are all classic acoustic Eric Church songs whose storytelling and exquisite guitar playing are beautiful.

“Give Me Back My Hometown” is an obvious single which seems to pay homage to U2’s big anthemic sound.

The last track, “The Joint” is about as close as you can get to David Essex’s iconic 1973 hit “Rock On” as it’s possible to get without paying royalties. This album goes beyond Chief’s “Smoke A Little Smoke” / “Jack Daniels” ethos by actually taking us into that woozy cloud. The way-slow reggae trombone is a touch of genius. Listen on headphones.

One of the best compliments The Inky Jukebox can pay this album is that it sounds like no other. It forges completely new ground. It is transcendent. 

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