Something I wrote up for wvbr.com when this album came out…check the record out if you haven’t already!
In country superstar Eric Church’s latest full-length record, he succeeds in delivering heartfelt confessions through his satisfying combination of powerful lyrics and acoustic stringing. Mr. Misunderstood, the ten-track LP that Church secretly delivered only to the mailboxes of members of his online fan club “the Church Choir”, tackles a variety of topics in the North Carolina native’s current life including influences from his early childhood, his ever-lasting passion for music, and the difficulties and luxuries of raising a son.
The album, which Church attests to writing in a period of only three weeks, features a mix of country and blues, ballads and love songs. In an interview on Sirius XM 56 The Highway, he notes that being married and raising a three-year old son has had a tremendous effect on his outlook on life, and ultimately his music, a sentiment that can certainly be witnessed throughout numerous tracks on the album, including the album’s autobiographical title track.
“Mr. Misunderstood” presents Church’s lifelong infatuation with music above a mix of soft acoustic picking in some verses and refrains, followed by heavier electric guitar riffs in others. As the song starts out, Church abruptly interrupts the opening warm, acoustic melody with his famous country twang, singing: “Hey to the weird kid in your high top shoes / sitting in the back of the class, I was just like you / always left out, never fit in / owning that path, that you’re walking in / Mr. Misunderstood.” Throughout the song he progresses through his childhood years, commenting on various love interests and a handful of other life events that influenced his musical preferences and shaped his personality. By dawning insight on his personal life outside of his musical career, he gives character to the record and provides a context for numerous other songs throughout his professional career, which has so far spanned roughly a decade.
On the fifth track of Mr. Misunderstood Church delivers a blues ballad with deep southern roots, generating sentiments of mystery and suspense to double the cryptic lyrics over the music. “Knives of New Orleans” begins with a heavy baseline, and builds up to a powerful pre-chorus and chorus with lyrics that seem to portray the thoughts of a criminal on the lam. Within this gripping tale set in the Big Easy, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to not sympathize with the culprit, and even give him the benefit of the doubt towards the end. As Church has separately commented: “There’s a desperation sort of feeling associated with this character, and if there’s one city I’ve been to where one can sort of hide out and lay low for a while, it’s New Orleans.” Whatever the true situation may be, “Knives of New Orleans” is a successful and triumphant end to Side A of the album, and a funk-filled country track destined to get radio time.
Despite its late, ninth-track appearance on the ten-track record, “Record Year” brings vibrant life to the speakers with an acoustic guitar base and a lyrical masterpiece rooted in a double entendre. In order to endure a break-up from a recent relationship, the protagonist, be it Church or not, turns to his vinyl collection during his “record year”. As the song begins, Church beckons, “Since you turned the tables on me / I’ve been steady and learning lonely / keeping this turntable spinning / everything from Jones to Jennings.” Because of the subject’s unexpected enjoyment from listening to vinyl after vinyl, he claims to have a “record year” in the sense that he is the happiest he has been in a while. Church, who lists Elvis Costello and Jeff Tweedy as a couple of his musical inspirations earlier on the album, now shows his country bluegrass roots by attesting his style to George Jones and Waylon Jennings, a testament that is certainly fortified by this album. By mentioning some of his musical preferences, Church allows listeners and fans alike to feel his passion for music and his belief that an instrument can be therapeutic as much as it can serve to entertain.
With this latest edition in his superfluous collection of hit-filled records, Church revitalizes the roots of the genre of country-western by bringing talent, honesty and passion into the recording studio. With its clever lyricism and enjoyable guitar riffs, Mr. Misunderstood is sure to evoke a positive response in any listener with a taste for country and folk and one thing is definitely certain: after even just a small taste of Church’s fifth record, everybody will want to dance with Mr. Misunderstood.
To promote the LP, Church is touring across Europe in February and March 2016 with special guest and fellow country singer-songwriter Andrew Combs. Returning to the United States in late March, he is set to headline a number of country music festivals throughout the rest of the spring and summer including “Bayou Country Superfest” in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on May 28 and “Big Barrel Festival” in Dover, Delaware on June 26.
Other Songs to Check Out: “Round Here Buzz”, “Kill A Word”, “Holdin’ My Own”