Eric Church songs usually tell believable stories about working men’s experiences in small town U.S.A. For instance, “Round Here Buzz” could easily be set anywhere in Texas, Georgia or Church’s home state of North Carolina.
His musical style suits hometown nostalgia, as well. Harder-hitting songs reflect the rotation of AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hank Williams Jr. standards that likely blared from the characters in his song’s pickup trucks as they drove to a buddy’s house to swill some Jack Daniels and “Smoke a Little Smoke.” Likewise, the acoustic guitar on “Holdin’ My Own” and other more subdued tracks may remind listeners of the mellow downtime that resulted from such hangout sessions.
Like Miranda Lambert, Church celebrates country music’s rich storytelling history without shunning modern Nashville’s pop preferences. Indeed, Church is no stranger to country radio or its perennial stars, collaborating in the past with Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Keith Urban.
Picking just 10 songs made for a challenge, as Church’s five studio albums contain minimal filler. With that said, here are 10 fantastic songs that demonstrate why Church is the country charts’ official rock and roots purist.
10. “Like Jesus Does”
Since the earliest hillbilly singers, Biblical analogies told in plain English served as a means for country songs to address modern day situations. In this instance, Church looks to Biblical passages printed in red to understand a woman’s love.
9. “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag”
Despite Church’s presumed rock star fantasies, he comes across as the kind of guy who’d just as well spin classic country albums than brush up on the new Blake Shelton album. In fact, he might just be singing about his own barroom listening preferences in “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag.”
8. “Guys Like Me”
Church celebrates the average guy who works all week so he can sit back, crack open a cold one and watch the game. Sometimes, these average rednecks get to thank their lucky stars for being loved by women who are anything but average.
Sweet nostalgia about family vacations and childhood friends marks Church’s ode to one of the South’s most storied race tracks. It’s not small town or even NASCAR specific, as people from everywhere and with all sorts of recreational interests fondly remember piling into Dad’s trusty old ride for a road trip.
Church’s love letter to the vast beauty of his home state reads like some of John Denver’s country-leaning material. The music doesn’t mirror Denver’s subdued, folksy sound. Instead, it brought a time-tested type of storytelling back to radio-friendly country.
5. “The Outsiders”
As voice of the disaffected, Church brought something rarer than genuine country to the mainstream. He recorded a dyed-in-the-wool rock ‘n’ roll song, truer to the spirit of Southern rock than anything Kid Rock can muster.
Sometimes, the types of small-town happenings cherished by Church flood to mind when a certain great song or artist plays on the radio. In this song, classic Bruce Springsteen hits served as the backing tracks for some very happy down-home memories.
3. “Record Year”
Record collectors and casual listeners find solace during some tough times through their favorite music. Church captures that spirit here, staying too busy revisiting the classics to dwell too much on a broken heart.
2. “Mr. Misunderstood”
A lot of praise gets rightfully heaped on Church’s AMA-winning 2016 album Mr. Misunderstood. Much of its charm comes from the title track. It’s a pep talk for small-town outcasts, complete with a Ray Wylie Hubbard namedrop.
1. “Kill a Word”
This cut has the most meaning, and likely the most staying power, of all of the Eric Church songs, and interrupts the rocking country party for a powerful statement against hateful words and actions. The talented Rhiannon Giddens duets with Church, bridging the gap between mainstream country and roots music.