Eric Church

Carolina

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"The Man in Black woulda whipped your ass/And I don't think Waylon done it that way" -- Eric Church on "Lotta Boot Left to Fill"

It's a great line that Eric Church means when he sings, but he can't quite convince listeners that he's in the outlaw tradition of Cash, Waylon, and Hank. Church sings like a manicured model, striking all the poses and hitting all the notes, but missing that essential grit. Of course, he isn't helped out by the production of his second album Carolina, a recording that gleams pristine, designed for two drinks at an after-work smokeless bar, not a long booze-filled night at a honky tonk dive. It's a commercial sound, one that puts Carolina firmly within the mainstream, and it also fits the contours of Church's voice. No matter how much he sings about being "Young and Wild" and how he likes to "Smoke a Little Smoke," he sounds like a guy who wants to cut loose but can't manage to shed his inhibitions, which kind of keeps Carolina in a bit of a straitjacket, never sounding as big and brawny as it wants to be. Church fares better when things get a little less macho, when he slides into the ballads like "Where She Told Me to Go" or tunes that are a little sprightly, like the poppy "Without You Here" and the wistful title track. Although there's a bit of a puppy-dog charm to Church's yearning to be bad, it's these softer numbers that suit his talents, and he'd be better off relying on this instead of trying so hard to be wild.

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