In mid 2010 amidst a rising Smoke A Little Smoke Eric Church decided to hunker down in a Carolina cabin to clear the cobwebs and get clarity on the creative direction of his next project, his third studio album. He imported some top shelf inspiration, focused on songwriting and emerged with the direction and eventual product of all that focused captivity – Chief, a Top Shelf Eric Church third studio album available July 26, 2011.
Why go through all that anguish to produce an album? “I love great records,” Church confesses, “and that’s what we strive to create.” With profound respect for Chief (the album) and The Choir (the fans) Church shares his feelings that “the third album is very important. It’s a crossover album that’s going to define you.”
Well, answering the demand for a third studio album is an honor Eric Church has taken very seriously. From lyric to hook, composition to production, track layout to title, Chief is indeed a great, live-feeling record of artistic perfection. I’m befuddled with how he does it, but Eric Church just keeps finding new words, new ways to serve fresh shots of good ol’ fashioned country storytelling. He’s a lyrical genius with intoxicating word play.
Eric Church debuted in 2006 with a critically-acclaimed album that didn’t gain much “industry recognition” but which the fans (the Church Choir) reference like the Bible. Sinners Like Me showcased Church’s master songwriting craftsmanship, storytelling and whiskey-soaked vices – I mean vocals.
I immediately came to a worried conclusion listening to Sinners – Eric Church is his own competition. Could he ever outdo this debut masterpiece?
Well, in 2009 Eric answered that call by serving a second shot of Church in his sophomore release, Carolina. After indulging for a short time in a combination of Sinners and Carolina singles though, this crowd-pleasing, fan-loyal artist retreated to the serenity of the Carolina hills to regroup and “stoke the creative flame” – from which Chief eventually emerged from a nickname, a cue call and a desire to create a third studio compilation of career defining excellence.
If that be so, let the definition be told that without deviating from the signature sound he’s built his reputation on, Eric Church combines licks, loops and lyrics and challenges his own perfection in Chief. His creative cup runs over but his well never runs dry. More than once he serves a mixture of vocal range from his traditional rough, rockin’ rowdiness to flirting with new heights.
Now, if you’re thinkin’ Chief might just be another 11 tracks of leavin’, lovin’ and drinkin’, well, you’re right. I mean, it’s country. What Chief isn’t is a repeat of anything you’ve heard or Church has produced.
Chief begins Creepin’ with an eerie musical invitation to a common country story. And the love lost lyric “your cocaine kiss and caffeine love got under my skin and into my blood…that need you back comes over me like ivy crawlin’ up a hickory tree” entices you to keep Creepin’ with Church through this not-so-common 11-track compilation.
Homeboy is Chief’s first single and hard-driven message that plays on the title inviting a young man to give up his street lifestyle and return home. It’s signature Eric Church storytelling with an explosive chorus and plea.
Drink In My Hand is a tailgating must-have-ode-to-happiness anthem. But don’t linger too long in leisure-land. You’ll want to Keep On chasing that Drink with this foot-stomping, fist-pumping, barroom pickup, could-be-a-brawl, lyrical ingenuity of taunting barroom antics. An all-around stellar compilation, hopeful single and that’s all I’ll say !
Then Like Jesus Does, Eric Church cradles you in the comfort of this tender ballad, rich in vocals, deep in lyric and captivating in an opening line that will call you to attention.
But it’s not long before he’s Hungover & Hard Up, downing heavy lyrical shots as he struggles to recover from another lost love. Life’s full of repeat lessons we fall into. But Church has a blessed reservoir of musical, lyrical and vocal pickups to help us rise above. Including the unexpected Country Music Jesus composition. A hard-rockin’, gospel, bluegrass revival anthem with a charging musical prechorus that explodes into a toe-tapping hootenanny. A stellar showcase of musical crossover success.
Your hard-earned cash is well spent on Chief. There’s no watered down, cheap shots. ‘Hit me again’ is an easy call but a favorite is not – unless you’re Eric Church and Jack Daniels. Both have been served before. But be sure to order this round because it’s the first second shot that stings stronger. Length and lyric will probably keep Jack Daniels from radio. But this Black Label undoubtedly will make it to every tailgate, fire pit, playlist and Eric Church concert.
Okay, I’ll share a small secret. Springsteen will probably be a favorite. Let the title entice you, not fool you, into falling in love in this flirtatious hit song with the innocence and memory of youth, love, romance and seduction … Church style !
Eric Church continues to captivate me with his unceasing ability to take common words and phrases and create stories with and around them. A use of the English language he has mastered with playfulness and perfection. I’m Getting Stoned, it is what you’re thinking but then it’s not because it’s Eric Church behind the pick of this regretful pain that somehow Church anesthetizes you into believing ain’t so bad.
But then again, it’s Over When It’s Over. Whether that phrase seals your fate or this album, when it hits, you feel like you’re looking at an empty bottle at last call. You want more. Well, luckily Happy Hour’s every day. And after a couple shots of this aged-to-perfection, hard-core production, you’ll return for another round.
Eric Church has definitely outdone himself in Chief. So what is it exactly that Church has created here to “define” this artist and third Jay Joyce produced masterpiece?
Chief is a compilation of country-themed songs to the core. But it’s Church’s lyrical ingenuity, rugged vocals, powerful instrumental purity and trademark perfection that makes Chief, the album and the artist, Top Shelf.
Simply put, Eric Church’s third studio album, Chief, is 100-proof of pure perfection. Door’s open July 26, 2011, cover included, 21 plus. Be sure to order a round !