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In yet another act of distinctly setting himself apart from the rest of the wheel, Eric Church got his Drake on and dropped a fully-produced, 10 song album into his Church Choir’s inboxes – an “old school” subscription paid fan club – giving thousands of $49.99/yr fans a WTF morning on November 4, later revealing it to the world on an international broadcast. This album is more than a surprise Eric Church album – it is an effort to lead the charge and assist with the turning of the Nashville tide. A ceremonious passing of the torch opened up the 49th annual CMA’s between Hank Jr and Church, aviators and all, and if we are keeping to the theme of Surprises – yes – Hank Jr on the CMAs. Hank last appeared in 2011 just following his reference to Obama playing golf with Speaker of the House, John Boehner, as “That’d be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu.” The comment which ended his 20 year relationship with Monday Night Football. Something had to be up. Oh right, and they covered Waylon (well, Neil.) Then the lucky duck gets to sing again – two points for Church.

I downloaded Chief and The Outsiders the first day of each respective release and dove in. One went over much better than the other but still never satisfied my appreciation for his writing as a whole since the Sinners Like Me album. With last week’s streaming of Mr. Misunderstood, Church reminded us that the movement will not happen if the guy in charge isn’t writing Grade A shit, himself. He accepted the role.

Before we get to the songwriting let’s lay down a few of the facts. It was claimed, in hand-written letters by Church himself, to select media movers and shakers that with a new guitar that his son named “Butter Bean” he wrote 20 songs in 18 days and had 10 recorded 20 days to follow. The recording wrapped up mid-October putting the beginning of the project’s stamp around late August 2015. But Eric, what about in July when you debuted your new song (and Mr. Misunderstood’s closing track), “Three Year Old” at Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater? Fishy. Because Math. Doesn’t matter. Part of any orchestration is a sellable story, works for me.

An album in 40 days. Kinda like that Jesus figure that he claimed was needed on Chief – resisting temptation from the devil that he sold himself to in Tracks 9 and 10 of The Outsiders?

If there’s one thing that Church does well (aside from his writing on this album…there, cat’s out of the bag) is narrate the story of Eric Church. He reminds us of his motives and solidifies his character. He’s a marketing genius walking in the backdoor of a megascene. I’d love to state altruism and become a fan again solely for his writing chops but I will buy a ticket to his next regional arena show because of his smarts.

So the writing is fucking great. The title track gives us what we love about Church – him and a guitar. Thank you sir. It crashes into a melody so familiar that I spent the next 20 minutes playing a G and C chord back and forth mumble-singing words to try and place it. ‘Mr. Misunderstood’ once again puts “Old Eric” as the compassionate refuge for today’s “They Just Don’t Get Me” Generation as he did throughout The Outsiders. Church also knows his early fans. The ones that let him go. He name drops Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jeff Tweedy clean out of the box; he raised our eyebrows, turned the corners of our mouth down, and had us nod. The song is Mellencamp-esque (which the CMA broadcast eluded to us is Keith Urban’s coming direction).

It’s ends with a pleasing drone dragging us into Track 2, just incase he didn’t have us back.

‘Mistress Named Music’ is stylistically peppered with the coming trend – soul. Authenticity will be the new manufactured selling point – whether it be natural or not. Soul music is the most accessible entrance in that development – uh, remember how good you felt the first time you heard Garth’s ‘We Shall Be Free’? Church mixes in a little Richie Sambora style solo, tone and all, and moves the album’s progression into Track 3, ‘Chattanooga Lucy’ – complete with Memphis born singer-songwriter, Joanna Cotten on back-ups. Memphis eh, kinda like that Timberlake character – with that said, at 1:06 Church beats Timberlake to his own coming sound. I swear I just saw Timberlake performing at a funeral…anyways.

The women of this album deserve they’re own blogging effort – his collaborations are strategic and legit. ‘Mixed Drinks About Feelings’ has long-time producer Jay Joyce calling up his old buddy Susan Tedeschi of Tedeschi Trucks Band (formerly known as Soul Stew Revival) and wife to Derek Trucks (of the Allman Brothers) lending her insanely soulful voice (soul, soul, soul) to the powerhouse track. Church clearly reminds you at this point in the album that he can write. And sing.

The only way to confront a decision or turmoil over a decision is to own it. That’s the outlaw way. Track 5, ‘Knives of New Orleans’ does just that. Screaming “I did what I did, I have no regrets, when you cross the line you get what you get” – admitting to us (his old fans) and vying for our forgiveness. Keep going Eric, I’m coming around. Boom. ‘Round Here Buzz’ – classic Church. This will be the transition song in his career…I’m guessing the next single judging by the percussion.  The “new country” will not be able to deem success without the intelligent lyric – no more cookie-cutter shit. It’s still that tailgate-getmydrinkon-missyou cliché but it’s backed up with a solid narrative and lyrical payoff. The Bridge Song.

‘Kill a Word’ brings in another heavy hitting, legit, female vocalist Rhiannon Giddens. Fellow Tar Heel and lead vocalist of Americana mainstay band, The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Yet again a surprising turn also features a virtually unknown singer/songwriter, Andrea Davidson. Google her name and a Toronto Real Estate agent pops up. ‘Kill a Word’, once again, brings in the Outsider theme and attacks bullying head on. These songs are never done right and the movement more often than not comes off as insincere. Church knocks it out of the park.

He then steals Chesney’s fanbase from under the megastar’s nose channelling his inner Buffett admitting he is ‘Holdin’ My Own’ and literally telling us “I mix blues and soul“. I got a JJ Cale kinda groove to this. (Speaking of Cale, kinda, Church has achieved another online milestone by having his name appear about Clapton’s when typing “Eric” into a search engine.) Church on Church.

Yes! Finally – the double entendre song. ‘Record Year’ is great. Remember Martina’s ‘Crying on the Shoulder of the Road’? Nashville writing at it’s modern best has the double entendre as a staple approach. This song does not fall short. Church’s love affair with vinyl is apparent in his writing – he shows The Outsiders on vinyl in the ‘Mr. Misunderstood’ music video and walked the walk with this magical little album release by sending out Vinyl of the album to select fans prior to the surprise inboxing. Vinyl takes months to create, the manufacturing is an art in itself…nevermind – I’m going back to the timeline of the release. Because Math.

Finally, ‘Three Year Old’ – dammit man, you got me.

Mr. Misunderstood is an incredibly well-written release chalked (see what I did there) full of Church’s best. Did he stalk-pile his material while inking his deal with the devil and release it with a great marketing story – let’s say he didn’t. In that case, Church wrote a unified album in 18 days that WILL bring his old fanbase back into his world; his ticket sales will sore and EMI will make damn sure that he is the number one priority. I might do Eric a solid and order this one in from Dave down at X-ray; I’ve listened to it in it’s entirety five or six times and will continue to do so. It has set a standard and in an attempt to fulfill the prophecy of Christ’s return was set in place with a whopper of a marketing plan and execution – but while Church was filling his contract with Satan on arena stages, Stapleton did so in private…

Church created Chief and The Outsider personnas, and Stapleton focused on himself. The roll-over orchestration had Hank Jr giving Church a christening only to have his evening robbed. Frequently hopping up and sharing stages, Church and Stapleton will lead this front – and everybody knows “friendly” competition is great for Capitalism. But my money is on the fact that Church is pissed.

Are you ready for the country?