ALBUM REVIEW: Eric Church – ‘Heart & Soul’

LifeInASong_UK

“I am the hardest critic on making sure every song deserves to be on the record, and I beat this thing to death going ‘this can’t be that good.’ But, it was just a special, special time and a special, special project that I think will be among our best.”

There usually comes a time in every artist’s career that feels like a truly defining moment; a release that stamps authority and ensures a legacy for years to come. Eric Church, currently at the height of his popularity, may be experiencing that moment right now with the release of his ‘Heart & Soul’ album trilogy. 

The project is the result of a 30-day recording process which took place in the mountains of North Carolina, led by Church with acclaimed producer Jay Joyce and a whole host of top songwriters including Luke Dick, Casey Beathard and Luke Laird, just to name a few. 

“Every day, we would write a song in the morning and we would record the song that night. Doing it that way allowed for the songwriters to get involved in the studio process and the musicians to be involved in the creative process. You felt a little bit like you were secretly doing something that was special”

Something special it certainly is. In particular, the first four tracks on the ‘Heart’ project provide one of the best introductions to an album you’ll hear; it’s an absolute tour de force from an artist operating at the very top of his game. The ‘Heart’ project oozes class, with influences ranging from Springsteen to Meat Loaf, blending together as a thoroughly cohesive, explosive piece of work. 

‘Heart Of The Night’ is even Queen/E.L.O-esque with its quirky melodic switches and euphoric chorus. As far as production goes, this is a sublime creation from Jay Joyce; it’s energetic, authentic and authoritative in equal measure; one of those songs that truly stops the listener in their tracks. Similarly, ‘Russian Roulette’ has become a huge fan favourite already, showcasing Church’s undeniable creativity and lyrical prowess in one of his finest releases to date. Without a doubt, two songs that will define this stage of his career.

‘People Break’ is also more than worthy of a mention. A beautifully crafted acoustic ballad, this is Church at his very best once again, showcasing his more mellow, reflective side. Along with ‘Crazyland’, another fine piece of work, it’s a welcome break from the expansive, bombastic style elsewhere on the ‘Heart’ album and feels reminiscent of the slower material on the ‘Mr Misunderstood’ record. Quality.

If that more subtle side is for you, then the ‘&’ album is well worth checking out (exclusively for Church Choir members). The sequencing towards the back end of this section is integral to the impact it has; the transition from the beautiful ‘Kiss Her Goodbye’, a first-person account of the pain of a breakup, into the outsider’s view in ‘Mad Man’, it’s genius. Lyrically, there are some absolute gems here, too:

“Kiss her in the morning / Kiss her when I got home / Kiss her on a plane to Paris or on the streets of Rome / Kiss her just for nothing / Just to let her know she was on my mind / My lips can’t seem to drunk up enough neon / To kiss her goodbye”

Not to mention the likes of ‘Through My Ray Bans’ and in particular ‘Doing Life With Me’, which is one of Church’s very best songs. In terms of getting value out of a Church Choir membership, you can’t ask for much more than this. ‘&’ is a must-listen collection that bridges the gap between the ‘Heart’ and ‘Soul’ projects superbly.

The ‘Soul’ album is a sonic shift from ‘Heart’, stripping back the boldness, leaving us with a much more classic Eric Church sound. It’s probably the album that loyal fans will gravitate to the most, as it’s got those signature southern, soulful elements that we’ve seen from him in the past, and overall a much more traditional feel.

‘Rock and Roll Found Me’ sets the tone, harking back to the story of ‘Mr Misunderstood’ with a “wrong side of the track kid” discovering the world of rock & roll and finding a new path in life. As the album title suggests, it’s soulful, earthy and a real throwback to the 70’s. ‘Look Good And You Know It’ follows that theme; a lovely groovy number packed full of motown nostalgia that utilises the backing vocals of Joanna Cotten to perfection. 

There are some rebellious moments on here too with ‘Break It Kind Of Guy’ and ‘Bad Mother Trucker’; it wouldn’t be an Eric Church record without a couple of those. ‘Break It Kind Of Guy’ truly feels like HIS song; not willing to conform to expectations, he’s neer been afraid to push the boundaries and follow his own musical path, and this is a defiant summation of that – “I tell my eagle where to fly / if it’s not broke, I’m a break it kind of guy”

Bringing the project to a close, ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones’. It’s these story-driven songs that really define Church’s stature as a songwriter; there are many great examples going all the way back to ‘Lightning’ on the ‘Sinners Like Me’ record. A biracial boy in Gadsden, Alabama grows up not knowing the identity of his father, who his mother keeps hidden from him, and we have the bombshell discovery right at the end. In terms of crafting a compelling, gripping narrative in just over 3 and a half minutes, you won’t find many songs better than this.

Overall, the ‘Heart & Soul’ project is a diverse, ambitious collection that sees Church pushing the creative boundaries more than ever before. Blood, sweat and tears have been put into this, and you can feel it with every note. It’s ok to be adventurous, but you have to do it right, and do it in a way that will bring the fans along for the ride, and Church has pulled that off to perfection.

Dan Wharton

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