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Eric Church

Eric Church

Eric Church is a rebel, both by design and circumstance, an old-fashioned outlaw in a time ruled by sweet country-pop and smiling bros singing about girls, trucks, and beer. Church loved all those things, along with a little smoke, but he was burlier, brawnier, sharper, and smarter than the pack, consciously evoking the ghosts of Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash but also playing with metallic guitars that previously had no place in hardcore country. Church likes to blur lines like that. He sang of "Springsteen" in a bittersweet ballad that sounded little like the Boss, he slipped backwards guitars onto "Creepin'" and some funk into "Cold One," making him a stealth sonic rebel to go along with his overt outlaw stance. He was amply rewarded for his rule-breaking, earning considerable sales, especially after 2011's breakthrough Chief, but also strong reviews from the mainstream rock music press, which was merely another way he carried the torch from Willie, Waylon, and the rest. No matter how much attention he got from rock audiences, his bold, multifaceted albums Mr. Misunderstood, Desperate Man, and Heart & Soul helped Church become a symbol for how adventurous and idiosyncratic mainstream country could be in the 21st century.

Church grew up in Granite Falls, North Carolina, and began singing as a child. At 13, he started writing songs, later teaching himself to play guitar. While attending college at Appalachian State, he formed a band, the Mountain Boys, who played around western North Carolina. After graduating with a degree in marketing, he moved to Nashville to pursue a career in country music. It took him a year to get a song publishing deal with Sony/ATV, after which he started having his songs recorded by other artists, an example being Terri Clark's version of "The World Needs a Drink." Church met producer Jay Joyce, who took an interest in him as a recording artist, and they began making demos. That led to his being signed by Capitol Records Nashville.

Church's debut single, "How 'Bout You," was released in early 2006, and it had reached the country Top 20 by the time Capitol issued his first album, Sinners Like Me, in July 2006. The record was both a critical and commercial success, and he followed it up with Carolina in 2009, which swung for the contemporary country fences and hit them, scoring two Top Ten singles on the country charts with "Love Your Love the Most" (certified gold) and "Hell on the Heart." In 2010, Church scored another gold single with "Smoke a Little Smoke," and he won Top New Solo Vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards for that calendar year. After extensive touring, he released the Caldwell County EP in January 2011, which reached the number 13 position on the Billboard country chart, as did the single "Homeboy." Church followed with the album Chief in July.

Chief was Church's breakout album: upon its July 2011 release, it debuted at number one on both the Billboard 200 and the Top Country Albums chart. Soon afterward, "Drink in My Hand" climbed to the top of the country charts, becoming Church's first number one single. Its popularity was eclipsed in the summer of 2012 by "Springsteen," a ballad that also reached number one on the country charts but additionally crossed over to the pop Top 20. Two other singles were pulled from Chief -- "Creepin'" and "Like Jesus Does" -- and the LP won Album of the Year at the 2012 Country Music Academy Awards. Chief also earned him his first Grammy nominations, for Best Country Album as well as Best Country Song and Solo Performance for "Springsteen."

Early in 2013, Church released the live set Caught in the Act, which was recorded at the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in October 2012; the album debuted at number five on the Billboard 200. Church spent the rest of 2013 working on his fourth studio long-player. The first taste of this work was the heavy rock of "The Outsiders," a single that turned out to be the album's title track. Preceded by the second single, "Give Me Back My Hometown" (which followed the title track into the country Top Ten), The Outsiders arrived after considerable anticipation and acclaim in February 2014 and became his second album to hit number one on both the country and overall charts. Church received four Grammy nominations that year for Best Country Album, Best Country Solo Performance and Song ("Give Me Back My Hometown"), and Best Country Duo/Group Performance ("Raise 'Em Up," a single on Keith Urban's Fuse). The Outsiders racked up five hit singles -- the biggest were the ballads "Give Me Back My Hometown" and "Talladega," both of which reached number one on Billboard's U.S. Country Airplay chart -- and while "Like a Wrecking Ball" remained on the charts, Church released a brand-new full-length album, Mr. Misunderstood, as a surprise in the first week of November 2015.

Mr. Misunderstood debuted at number two on Billboard's Top 200 and country charts, eventually earning a gold certification and winning CMA's Album of the Year in 2016, along with spawning three hit singles: "Mr. Misunderstood," "Record Year," and "Kill a Word," which featured Rhiannon Giddens on its single version. In November 2016, Church released the EP Mr. Misunderstood on the Rocks Live and (Mostly) Unplugged. A fourth single off Mr. Misunderstood, "Round Here Buzz," appeared in 2017 and reached the Top 20 of Billboard's Country Songs chart. The singer's sixth studio album, Desperate Man, arrived in October 2018, preceded by its title track as a single. Church was nominated for another Best Country Album Grammy for the LP, as well as Best Country Song for "Some of It."

A pair of singles, "Stick That in Your Country Song" and "Bad Mother Trucker," appeared 2020, with "Heart on Fire" and "Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones" arriving the following year. All of the new music came from a fruitful month-long recording session in North Carolina, where Church and his band wrote and recorded a new song every day. The collected results were released as the triple-album series Heart & Soul in April 2021. Heart appeared first, with & released to fan club members a few days before the release of Soul. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & William Ruhlmann

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