Eric Church

Caught in the Act: Live

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As he preps his fourth album, Eric Church pays tribute to the time-honored tradition of releasing a live album while the iron is hot. And so there's Caught in the Act: Live, a 17-track set recorded at the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga, Tennessee as he supported his career-making 2011 record Chief. In concert, Church is brawnier than he is in the studio -- witness "Creepin," where such subtle production tricks as backward guitars are stripped away so it just barrels by on drums and guitars -- but this isn't a bad thing, as macho swagger is integral to his appeal. He makes no bones about his debt to Waylon or allegiance to Hag but Church knows this isn't the '70s, and he cranks up the amplifiers so they fill an arena and let his rhythms hit hard, so much so that when "Smoke a Little Smoke" ends with a quotation from Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf," it doesn't feel out of place. Curiously, Caught in the Act concludes with Church's sweetest moments -- "These Boots" and "Springsteen" -- which means apart from the brief respite of "Sinners Like Me," this is as intense and heavy a country concert album as has ever been released. It may not convey some of the subtleties and shading of Church's music, but this is an easy way to mainline the neo-outlaw singer at his hardest.

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