2018 CD FEATURE
DESPERATE MAN (EMI)
ERIC CHURCH SURGERY SURVIVOR AND DESPERATE MAN
North Carolina singer-songwriter Eric Church eulogises heroes diverse as Bruce Springsteen and Ray Wylie Hubbard in his soulful country music.
But after recovering from life threatening surgery he joins peers Willie Nelson and Will Hoge in expanding his social comment tunes to parody political ponces who use fear to divide and conquer their constituents.
Church ignites a war strategy power struggle between a rattlesnake and a copperhead in his eighth album Biblical entrée The Snake as his message metaphor.
He lampoons politicians lying, cheating and greed to retain power by manipulating their victims as the world burns down.
Church is not as specific as Will Hoge in his Trump satire Gilded Walls , accompanied by a vivid video with a Trump impersonator, on his 17 th album My American Dream .
But his viper analogies are salient signposts to targets in his song penned with Jeremy Spillman and Travis Meadows.
Church says The Snake is a parable for America 's two-party political system with the reptiles joining forces behind closed doors to wreak havoc upon the voting public and echoes feelings of listeners of all political persuasion.
“I believe most of them feel the way I do, regardless of their voter registration,” Church, 41, revealed in a recent interview.
“Some of this stuff you look at and go, ‘why is this hard?' why can we not get infrastructure done, why don't we do more clean energy, why are prescription drugs so expensive? Because it's a lobbyist-based system. It's a money-based system. Either way, we're f-----d.
“Career politicians get together and make a lot of noise and then go to the bar and slap each other on the back. They are all f---d up and crooked. I know some of these guys. I've seen it, I've watched it. It's a racket.”
So it's then back to the serpents in song.
"Rattlesnake said to the Copperhead /ain't no way they can win /cause the mice are sheep /and the shepherd's asleep /and the copperhead said amen/ rattlesnake, copperhead /either one of them kill you dead /we stay hungry, they get fed/ and the whole world's burning down.”
Church learned first-hand the high cost of medicine in 2017 with emergency surgery to remove a blood clot caused by birth defects that put his top rib bone too close to his collarbone, causing thoracic outlet syndrome.
“There's a major vein that runs through there," Church said, "and when I would raise my arm, it would pinch it and damage the vein."
The blood clot, caused by the vein trying to heal itself, kept growing and creating pressure without Church knowing.
One night at his North Carolina home Church noticed his left arm was swollen "noticeably red and enlarged and not responding like it should” so he Googled his symptoms and rushed to hospital.
An ultrasound revealed the blood clot in his chest so he had emergency surgery.
"I said, ‘can it kill me?'" Church recalled. "And the doctor said, ‘today.'"
Church was admitted to ICU at Duke University Hospital in Durham , North Carolina .
"That was really when it hit me," Church says.
"To them, I was going to die.”
Church spent three days in recovery from surgery and doctors took out his top rib a week later.
"Normally, if you're athletic and have thoracic outlet syndrome, you'll start having issues at 21, 22, 23,” Church explained.
“Others, though, don't learn about the issue until they just fall over in the shower.”
Church spent summer of 2017 in rehab doing physical therapy.
He has scars from the incident but no long-term damage.
“I can still play guitar,” he quipped, “and I play golf better than ever.”
And back to The Snake - it segues into joyous Muscle Shoals funky love song Hanging Around with Church in a deep voice.
Motown flavoured Heart Like A Wheel, with Joanna Cotten's gospel harmonies, is an opposites attract love song that leads into philosophical tome Some Of It .
Some Of It initially explores youthful temptations, patience and learning before it climaxes with “what really makes you a man /is being true to her till your glass runs out of sand.”
DESPERATE MAN – RAY WYLIE HUBBARD
“I've seen the Joshua Tree/ got down on my knees/ threw the Virgin Mother a prayer/ I've walked glass barefooted/ strolled across the devil's hot coal/ I've tried everything, I swear.” - Desperate Man - Eric Church-Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Church wrote most of his new album's songs in a fishing cabin on his farm north of Nashville.
They included Desperate Man with veteran Oklahoma born Texan outlaw Ray Wylie Hubbard whom he name checked in the title track of his sixth album Mr Misunderstood.
He also featured Hubbard, 72, in the video, filmed at Cornelia Fort Airpark.
That was the planned destination for country stars Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas who died on March 5, 1963, when their Piper Comanche crashed near Camden , 90 miles from Cornelia Fort.
The clip, directed by Reid Long and John Peets, features Church as getaway driver for a heist.
After he stashes the stolen cash in a safe he's at home with his wife and daughter.
Then a mysterious man, played by Ray Wylie, arrives and gives him a bag of a mysterious black material in exchange for cash.
The sting in the tail of the tale is the transaction was about creating vinyl records but doesn't save Church's home from being raided as he and his family are forced into hiding.
The song was inspired by Narcos - one of Church's favourite TV shows and the movies Blow and American Made - and drug smugglers risk-taking.
Hubbard was influenced by movie Operation Odessa about a Russian mobster who tried to sell a submarine to a drug cartel.
Director Peets chose the airfield because of an abandoned plane there that once belonged to a trafficker - he couldn't get inside because the current owner was incarcerated and inside.
CHURCH CHOIR ANGELS
“Four years and seven days from tying cans to the bumper/ I was pacing a maternity floor, my flower baby was a mother/ my hands were shaking as we were leaving, taking our boy home/ my heart was full and in my head I could hear a long, long song/ Cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon on the hippie radio/ A-B-C, 1-2-3, don't blink or he'll be gone/ and I took her hand and she just smiled with a look that said "I know"/ a boy and his dad, and a boy and his girl in a Pontiac/ and the hippie radio.” - Hippie Radio - Eric Church.
Church has long championed female peers - he featured his Church Choir singer Joanna Cotten live on the 52nd CMA awards on Desperate Man.
Church was an 11th hour addition when Kenny Chesney cancelled after a family death.
Joanna born in Memphis , Tennessee , and raised in Arkansas , signed to Warner Brothers and recorded over 20 songs for an album that was not released after her single The Prize stalled out at #60 on Billboard in 2007.
Cotten continued recording and touring her music she calls funkabilly - a blues, funk and country hybrid drawn from her Memphis roots.
She performs with Church on tours, his live video Over When It's Over in 2013 and Chattanooga Lucy on the 2017 CMA awards.
When Church headlined a Chicago concert on April 13, 2017, he performed an impromptu duet with female outlaw Ashley McBryde.
Church brought McBryde onstage, introducing her as "a whiskey-drinkin' badass" before alternating verses on her song Bible and a .44 - a tender tribute to her late father who sired eight children on his Mammoth Springs farm.
Eric said he was a big fan of Ashley, clad in Church's 2015 Mr Misunderstood album tee shirt.
“You guys are gonna be a massive fan of her real soon,” Church told fans about the singer he promoted in their live video.
“She is just starting this journey of her career - she's my favourite artist out right now that's not out but she will be soon.”
Ashley, 35, has released five albums in 12 years in Nashville - Bible And a 44 is on her third album Jalopies And Expensive Guitars .
She swapped verses with Eric about her dad who gave her a mandolin at the age of four - the year before her stage debut at one of many bluegrass festivals with her family.
By the time she was nine she swapped mandolin for guitar and wrote first song, Fight the Flames, at 12.
Church also collaborated with Carolina Chocolate Drops founder Rhiannon Giddens on his single Kill A Word on the 50th annual CMA Awards in 2016 and chose Valerie June as duet partner on Like Jesus Does at 2013 ACM Awards.
He featured Lzzy Hale of rock band Halestrom on his song That's Damn Rock & Roll and gave exposure to artists including Brandy Clark and Sonia Leigh on his tours.
JUKEBOX AND A BAR
“They can make cars drive themselves/ and prove time-travel ain't crazy as hell/ they've even got a pill to make a soft package hard/ but as far as we've came/ when it comes to love and to blame/ and the breaking of a loved heart/ I think we're sorely lacking methods/ so I'm going with old time-tested/ a jukebox and a bar.” - Jukebox And A Bar - Eric Church.
Church reaches the high notes as he resurrects moonshine and sinners in soulful Biblical love song Higher Wire and praises trusted family value memories in Solid.
He overcomes ruptured romance with solace in music and booze instead of modern remedies in Jukebox And A Bar.
“For how far we have evolved we still have the same basic problems,” Church revealed of the song.
“We are all broken and we are all going to break. It doesn't matter how far we've come or how many pills we come up with or how much technology distracts us, we still want the same things. And you can get through anything in your life with a jukebox and a bar.”
It's a whiskey soaked spirited sibling and segue to finale Drowning Man - an anthemic blue collar drinking song.
“A lot of people feel like a Drowning Man ,” Church says.
“They just want to shut it all off. They feel betrayed. They feel like they put in their share and their pound of flesh and it's all crooked. And then Desperate Man , the desperation of the track - it's the same guy. The storyline is different, but it's the same emotion.”
Church's album was delayed by tragedies including the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas where he performed before the shooting massacre on October 1, 2017.
“I was a little lost for a while. I think, like a lot of people, I was in a little bit of a funk after something like that,” Church revealed.
“I was still a little burned out. A little bit going through the motions. I think that's part of what happened when I first went into the studio, is I still wasn't quite ready to get there. I got a little bit desperate in there to just find an album because it was not happening.”
Instead Church wrote Why Not Me - a ballad in honor of Sonny Melton - and debuted it at the Grand Ole Opry.
Melton, just 29, a nurse from Big Sandy, Tennessee, died shielding his wife Heather Melton from gunfire that killed 58 fans and injured 489 at the festival.
The couple travelled from Tennessee to Las Vegas to see Church's final festival of the year and had tickets to see his Opry show in Nashville .
Church confessed the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting in Las Vegas damaged his creativity in the studio.
“I went through a period, a funk, for six months at least. I had anger,” Church explained.
“I've still got anger. Something broke in me that night, and it still hasn't healed. I was still a little burned out. A little bit going through the motions. I think that's part of what happened when I first went into the studio, is I still wasn't quite ready to get there. That's where Desperate Man kind of came from. I wrote that in the studio. I got a little bit desperate in there to just find an album.”
Church also suffered another personal tragedy.
His younger brother Brandon died aged 36 after he suffered multiple seizures at home in Granite Falls , North Carolina on Friday, June 29, 2018.
Brandon was also a songwriter and co-wrote songs with Eric including How About You from debut album Sinners Like Me and Without You Here from second album Carolina.
“We've had a lot of hit songs. But I hope different is a word for me," Church said.
"If you look at our writing and what we've recorded, I hope people go, 'man, that guy did it his own way.'"
That includes his 2013 live album Caught In The Act and his 61 Days in Church live 4 CD box set from his Holding My Own tour.
Church recorded more than 200 hours of music on a 61-date run that featured three-hour concerts with no opening acts.
It included Screw You, We're From Texas with Ray Wylie Hubbard.