Eric Church has always seen himself as a bit of an outlaw, an outsider to country music; allying his persona with the Willies, Waylons and Hank Jrs. of the business. In his early years, I always thought this was no more than posing. After all, if you have to tell people how much of an outlaw you are, you’re probably just wishing. Great news: he has grown into what he wants to be and we are all the better for it.
His two most recent studio albums, Carolina, and Chief, built on his persona, as his songwriting skills and confidence grew. Chief was hailed by most publications as the one country album worthy of their time and space. Yeah, whatever. There’s plenty of great country music, and Eric Church is one artist that so boldly yells “I’M DIFFERENT” that even biased music critics paid attention.
His new album, The Outsiders, builds upon the last two releases, with a dizzying array of sounds and odd arrangements from producer Jay Joyce. The Outsiders is adventuresome, and as with any adventure into the unknown, there are some rough missteps along the way. But for all of the sonic gymnastics, the heart of the songs are not lost and Church’s character-driven narratives are fully drawn and sung with confidence and conviction that make you go back for more. Church has arrived with an attitude and a sound that put him on the “I don’t like country music but I like him” level. He joins that club whose members include Garth, The Dixie Chicks, and Chesney; not bad company to keep for an outsider. – John Scott