If you're not an Eric Church fan already, you should be. Here's why.
Eric Church is one of country music's brightest stars. His shows are breaking attendance records, he recently earned a Grammy nod for his platinum album The Outsiders, and he's garnered several No. 1 hits.
But Church isn't new to the scene. The aviator-and-trucker-hat-rocking singer has been delivering heart-wrenching ballads and bad-boy anthems for years. He really only captured mainstream ears in 2011 with his album Chief and its standout single "Put a Drink in My Hand." Church also managed to stay strong in a bro-country dominated 2014, with a Grammy nomination, a No.1 with "Give Me Back My Hometown" and the standout tune, "Talladega."
Here's what makes Church's approach to his music and live performances so special.
1. His attitude
Many artists have abandoned their unique qualities in order to better fit in with trends at radio. Church sticks to his vibe - humble and stubborn, a fighter and a lover - and continues to achieve success. While "Hometown" and "Talladega" didn't feel out of place on radio, they were certainly distinguishable as Church songs. They both topped the charts and made critics' best of 2014 lists. Maybe this serves as a beacon of hope for those sick of flipping on the radio and feeling like they can't distinguish between songs or the artists singing them.
He does not apologize for who he is and retains the outsider attitude he built on Carolina and Sinners Like Me in a completely authentic and genuine way. He's also paid his dues.
Church is no hero and no saint, which makes him great. He's one of us. He sticks to his guns, and it makes him a strong artist. Church will be around long after popular trends have died out.
2. His live show
Church makes each live show feel incredibly special. Even if you've never seen him play, listen to his live album, Caught in the Act: Live. He tells the crowd he's going to give them every ounce he's got, and he needs them to give that energy back. He changes lyrics to sing about Chattanooga, that October Tuesday night and Johnny Cash. It's a community, a conversation and an interaction.
During the break in "Springsteen," he asks the crowd, "if you'll indulge me, I'm gonna connect a melody and a memory right now," and launches into The Boss's "Born To Run." Church isn't just trained by his handlers to thank his fans. He understands and truly lives by his gratitude for the fans who allow him to do what he loves.
It's apparent in his live show banter as well. He waxes nostalgic about his first Springsteen show and describes the "taste of the beer from the older couple that we stole it from just down the lawn." From intimate moments to straight up rock songs, Church and his crowd ride the same energy from start to finish, providing a truly special experience.
3. His music
Church manages to evolve his sound according to his own personal changes, rather than the trends of the day. His single from The Outsiders, "That's Damn Rock and Roll," has as much high-energy rock vibes as early songs like "Ain't Killed Me Yet." His songs can be sensual, such as "Like A Wrecking Ball" and "You Make It Look So Easy," and they're emotive, like "Man Who Was Gonna Die Young" and "The Hard Way."
His musical centerpieces, including "Sinners Like Me," perfectly capture the singer's ethos; Church isn't a total outlaw. He hasn't thrown faith to the wind, but there's a nuance there, an awareness he's not perfect. His song "Dark Side" emphasize this perfectly. He's not apologetic about his imperfections. Instead, he holds them high, and it makes him incredibly true to who he is and much more relatable as an artist.
Many artists with distinct sounds tried their turn at bro-country and generic mid-tempo tunes this year, and even artists like Zac Brown took a shot at a more radio-friendly vibe. Brown's distinct vocal aside, "Homegrown" feels right at home with the homogenous vibe on the radio. Thematically, it offers less than his usual fare.
By contrast, Church remains in the rare category of artists retaining their artistic integrity. It's working, because it's completely true to who he is. The Outsiders was one of the few country albums to go platinum this year, gain a Grammy nomination and yield number one songs.
4. His shades
Though Church exudes cool in many ways, let's face it, his aviators are quintessentially awesome. It's been said that he sports his signature shades because the bright stage lights irritate his contacts. However, there's no doubt they add to his bad boy mystique and rocker charm.
The shades are not just an accessory; they're a gateway between the soulful vulnerability of "Where She Told Me To Go" and the swagger of "How 'Bout You."