Thursday, July 6, 2017

Austin City Limits: Eric Church (KLRU/PBS, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I watched a two-year-old Austin City Limits from the DVD backlog featuring country singer Eric Church, whom I had mixed feelings about: I basically liked him but as the show progressed I started to get worn down by the sameness of his material. Musically he’s able to ring a lot of changes on the basic 1970’s Southern-rock style that’s become the default setting for today’s “country” music (especially for male artists) — including one beautiful song, “Put a Drink in My Hand,” which began with a shiveringly beautiful blues-style slide guitar intro from one of his two lead guitarists. (Church himself occasionally plays electric guitar but usually plays acoustic rhythm parts the way Elvis did in the early days.) One expects to hear a pedal steel guitar in country music but not a blues-style slide! It’s Church’s lyrics that are the problem: just about all his songs are about drinking, coming back to your home town after a long absence, drinking, breaking up with your girlfriend (probably because she got tired of his drinking), drinking and drinking some more. I found myself wondering if Church’s drinking would get to be so much of a problem he’d have to join Alcoholics Anonymous, whereupon he’d make a concept album about not drinking. Just the song titles — at least as far as I could make them out, which wasn’t easy because Church announced nothing (he assumed his audience would be familiar with all his songs, and given how often they were singing along with him, he was probably right) — indicates the sameness of the material and how he kept going to the same subjects in song after song after song: “Creepin’,” “Guys Like Me” (as in “guys like me usually don’t end up with girls like you”), “This Is My Home Town,” “That Was a Cold One” (as in how dare his girlfriend leave him when he had just one beer left with which to drown his sorrows), “Sinners Like Me,” “Come On Home, Boy” (in which the singer is lamenting that his son is wearing hip-hop gear and “pants on the ground” and wants him to get back to those good ol’ Southern home values of small-town life and small-town drinking), “Put a Drink in My Hand” (no thanks, Eric, I think you’ve had enough already), “These Boots” (for which a woman in the front row actually handed him one of her boots and let him use it as a prop), “Drink a Little Drink, Smoke a Little Smoke” (well, he’s a country artist and he’s not Willie Nelson, so the “smoke” is undoubtedly just tobacco), “Soundtrack to a July Saturday Night,” “The Outsiders” (a quite good piece of material musically), and his closer, “I Was Gonna Die Young,” in which the singer expresses his surprise that he’s outlasted Hank Williams and Jesus (mentioned in that order, by the way). I really like Eric Church’s music but just wish he’d write songs about something else — and I was also amazed that, unlike a lot of other modern country stars (especially the men), he doesn’t insist on being the cutest person in his band: there’s a tall, stocky, heavily tattooed guitar player whom I thought was sexually hotter than the star!