Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
Eric Church: Sinners Like Me
Kevin Forest Moreau
Mainstream country singers aren't known for their subtlety, and when one
works a casual affirmation of faith into a traditional breakup lament, nine
times out of ten it's going to smack of pandering to country's Bible belt
base. But when Eric Church sings "I believe the Bible / Is cold hard fact,"
he's setting up the song's punch line: "And I believe that Jesus is coming
back / Before she does."
Nothing else on Church's agreeable debut Sinners Like Me is quite as
clever as that lyrical hook, but the album is full of consistently
listenable and tightly written songs -- built on sturdy country-rock
arrangements, accessible melodies and sharp songwriting -- that don't
exploit country tropes for easy applause. (Well, there's the awkward "Pledge
Allegiance to the Hag," an ode to Merle Haggard, but that's the lone
anomaly.) With the exception of "How 'Bout You," an unforced statement of
solidarity with his audience, when Church references touchstones of the
good-ole-boy life, it's in the service of his characters: The average truck-drivin'
protagonist of "Guys Like Me" who's "so rough around the edges it's hard to
believe/That girls like you love guys like me," or the reckless singer of
"These Boots," who's survived bull riding and "stood toe-to-toe with the
biggest baddest Joes," but still can't believe he walked out on his true
Throughout Sinners Like Me, Church displays a deceptively easy hand
with the wordplay so endemic to modern country ("Can't Take It With You")
and a knack for wringing humorous payoffs from conventional
end-of-the-relationship fare: "There's absolutely positively no doubt in my
mind / That O.J. did it, Lee Harvey didn't, and she's really gone this
time," he sings in the chorus to "Before She Does." But he also proves
himself skilled at more subtle songwriting, the kind one more often expects
to find on the singer-songwriter side of the Nashville divide, as on the
reflective title track and the arresting "Lightning," which follows a
convicted killer's final thoughts before facing the electric chair.
It's probably Nashville heresy to say so, but those latter moments -- and
the rocking "Two Pink Lines," probably the first song in mainstream country
history about a couple sweating out the results of a home pregnancy test --
recall Steve Earle's early work, before he found the conservative Music Row
machine too confining, and Church's slightly jagged delivery echoes Earle as
well. To this listener's thinking, that's high praise indeed. And while
nothing on Sinners Like Me suggests Church will follow in Earle's
footsteps, it nonetheless marks him as a talent worth watching.
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