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Album Review: 'Carolina'

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

CAROLINA

Eric Church

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"I don't think Waylon done it that way/And if he was here he'd say 'Hoss, neither did Hank,' " sings Eric Church on "Lotta Boot Left to Fill," the centerpiece of his tradition-conscious yet forward-looking second album. The North Carolina native isn't merely echoing the doubts that Waylon Jennings raised about the state of country music in his 1975 hit, "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way." He's choosing sides and, by implication, staking a claim for his own artistic bona fides.

Musically, Church's affinity with Jennings can be striking -- everything from the sinewy country-rock of "Lotta Boot" to his soulful crooning on the ballad "Where She Told Me to Go." The hooky "Without You Here" updates the twangy pop of Jennings's onetime employer, Buddy Holly.

But Church isn't content merely to do things Waylon's way. Produced by Jay Joyce, a veteran of the Nashville rock scene, his record is more inventive musically than most mainstream country releases. "You Make It Look So Easy," for example, opens with evocative strings that modulate back and forth between major and minor keys. Other tracks get a lift from up-to-the-minute drum programming while "Carolina," a nostalgic ballad, features atmospheric fretwork like that patented by U2 guitarist the Edge.

Full of references to beer, home cooking and NASCAR, the song's lyrics are less imaginative. But on musical terms alone, Church's "Carolina" is a commercial country rarity: an album that sounds terrific from start to finish.

-- Bill Friskics-Warren

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Lotta Boot Left to Fill," "Without You Here," "Carolina"


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