I grew up listening to a good amount of country music, and have always had a soft spot in my heart for the style of music. Unfortunately for people like myself, country music has taken an odd turn in more recent years.

I hate sounding like an old grandpa yelling about how they don’t make ‘em like they used to, but Nashville’s priorities in the music they have been putting out are clearly different than more traditional styles of country. Historically, country music has been more focused on songwriting, using poetry and wordplay, along with minimal instrumentation to tell a story, lament a heartbreak, or even show love for a person or vice (normally beer or whiskey).

Even though the sound of this more traditional type of music has evolved throughout the years; examples being the addition of percussive sounds, electric guitars, or extra instruments; for a long time, country music was about telling a story of sorts with a focus on the lyricism itself.

The mainstream country sound from Nashville has drifted from this when the idea of “Bro-Country” was introduced, which focused more on the snap tracks and looped beats as opposed to songwriting. Many popular country songs currently only have lyrics that list off things that would make one “country.”

I saw the light in the sunrise

Sittin’ back in the 40 on the muddy riverside

Gettin’ baptized in holy water and shine

With the dogs runnin’

Saved by the sound of the been found

Dixie whistled in the wing, that’ll get you heaven bound

Blake Shelton, “God’s Country”

However, all hope is not lost for those of us who prefer the style of country music more focused on lyricism. Country songwriters such as Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, and Luke Combs have gained commercial success and gathered a following outside of mainstream Nashville by making music without relying on the tropes that mainstream country relies on so heavily. However, one of these “anti-establishment” country musicians stands out among the rest in his ability to get his singles to the top of the charts: Eric Church.

Eric Church grew up in North Carolina and his first album, Sinners Like Me, was released in 2006 containing influence of Outlaw Country as well as rock and pop elements that allowed the song to do well on multiple charts. The album contained a few singles that played well on the radio.

However, one of the final tracks of the album, titled “Two Pink Lines,” a song about a pregnancy scare between two teenagers, was considered too controversial for country music as mainstream country radio stations refused to give it any airtime. This would not be the only time Eric would come under fire from the mainstream country crowd.

While his following albums always had “radio safe” singles, the rest of his albums were filled with tracks that not only contained clever songwriting and wordplay, but also stories that are more than just the country stereotype of loving God, beer, trucks, and women. These songs contained everything from getting stoned to forget his ex-girlfriend’s wedding day, all the way to lessons he has learned from his three-year-old child.

Yeah I know that it was over

When I heard those wedding bells

That preacher was my jailer

Now this bottle is my bail

So much for all that prayin’

Her I do would be I don’t

She got a rock

I’m gettin’ stoned

Eric Church, “I’m Gettin’ Stoned

I was foolish and wild, she was classic and regal

We were fresh out of school, both barely legal,

We were young and on fire, just couldn’t wait

Till six weeks in, she was three weeks late

Eric Church, “Two Pink Lines”

Use every crayon color you got

A fishing pole sinks faster than a tackle box

Nothing turns the day around like licking a mixing bowl

I learned that from a three-year-old

Eric Church, “Three-Year-Old”

Church is credited as a writer for every song on all of his albums. This is highly unusual since, in the country music industry, most mainstream country stars do not write their own songs. Even more of an outlier, Church tackles topics in his music that very few others in the industry dare touch. On his most recent album, Desperate Man, the single titled “The Snake” is one of these songs that does not follow the ideals of mainstream country.

On the surface, Church sings about a rattlesnake and copperhead snake having a conversation, eventually agreeing to team up and rule over all of the mice. However on closer observation, many have interpreted this song to be a metaphor for the two major American parties, and how they are both out to get us mice, the general population.

Copperhead said to the rattlesnake, if you ever wanna make it rain

We could team up, be twice as tough, fear could be our game

Rattlesnake said to the copperhead, we were the original sin

And I bet my rattle against your copper that the bitch takes the apple again

Eric Church, “The Snake”

Seem far fetched? Try watching the newly released video for the song. During the verses, images of snakes can be seen alongside the lyrics. However, once the chorus is reached, images of the American flag, House of Congress, and White House can clearly be seen.

As I said earlier, I hate feeling like an old man yelling at the clouds. But Church’s style of country music is vastly different than much of what we see on the country charts these days. A large reason that the overwhelming majority of people don’t enjoy country music is that Bro-country is taking away the one thing that made country music so popular in the first place: the writing and wordplay. If someone is ever looking to get into country music, don’t let them look at the Billboard charts.

-Charlie

7 COMMENTS

  1. What a great article ,real country musis has been gone in most of the new artist but there is a new generation out there emerging like Cody Jinks ,Ward Davis, Dillion Carmichael Alex Williams and My favorite Eric Church

  2. Hell Yes! I have been saying this for years! I could not agree more. Eric Church is a brilliant songwriter, singer, performer, and person! He should have walls lined with shelves filled with awards but he gets shunned and ignored by the industry and country radio year after year. I am so grateful he hasn’t and never will sell out to fit into country radio’s out of whack cookie cutter shape. Take me to CHURCH!

  3. Aside from his wordplay and brilliant lyrics that fall well outside the Bro Country movement, probably no better example of Eric Church’s importance to country music can be seen with his tours. For the previous two tours, he has foregone the opening acts and simply played two sets himself, which his fans have loved. For many artists, the thought of a 3 hour marathon concert may not seem appealing, but Eric Church seems to thrive in this environment and the passion he inspires in his fans can be seen with the fact they are choosing to ‘double down’ and attend both concerts of each city. Regardless of awards, which as previously stated, and too few and far between for an artist of his talents, Eric Church has the most important aspect of any artist, a large and dedicated fan base.

  4. Funnily enough, I am 27 from Boston so I likely didn’t have the type of exposure you did to country music. Always loved alternative country, but usually alternative country (Think Smooth Hound Smith or Parsonsfield’s Poor Old Shine, the latter is criminally unknown). In HS, my friends were typical MA degenerates with primarily rap and EDM tastes. I also love plenty of that stuff, but my rebellion, I guess, against my friend group and my town’s “normal” was me and one other buddy got super into country and country life. Basically popular country from 2008-2011 was our shit, so Brad Paisley, Rodney Atkins, Zac Brown Band, Miranda Lambert with older stuff mixed in like Tim McGraw type guys. I do still like a lot of individual music from that era in mainstream country but I don’t follow or listen to any of those artists…EXCEPT Eric Church. something about him transcends the genre and I can listen to his albums at any point in my life. He really is a wild talent that, despite his popularity, deserves even more respect as a musician. So many relevant and badass songs from back then still hold up wonderfully now.

    I just enjoyed your article and defining what separates Church from the rest of country made me really think…you mentioned you are from an “older school” era of country in the south that appreciates lyricism more, and I just wanna further your point…he is a standout musician of any genre in my opinion. He has so many kick ass songs, more than any artist of that time for me.

    His writing is a major factor, one I hadn’t really thought about but you are on point. The whole mix of “tough” aesthetic without being some edgy try hard and being a guy who legitimately just seems to want a good time with a dash of degenerate (Not in a bad way, just likes to party a bit much, extremely relatable) for good measure. His whole oeuvre is just pretty relatable no matter if you had a traditional southern experience with those values and quality lyrical works as your youth’s soundtrack or from the furthest thing from the traditional South in a Boston Suburb but just liked partying and rippin around in your jeep wrangler.

    He is the only guy I have shown most girlfriends/friends and almost everyone has enjoyed his music…even people with an aversion to country as a whole (dumb for any genre, but it’s Boston). I got back into his stuff today and wanted to check if he was getting the credit he deserves as a musician because I am always so impressed and stumbled on your article! Thanks for writing it, a good read!

    On a side note, I think the “Two Pink Lines” controversy only bumped him up in my book. I will ALWAYS appreciate an artist who veers from their general culture’s ideology and values to explore riskier areas. Whether its rappers doing so or country musicians. IDK how you saw it, but to me taking risks…EVEN if it “offends” me I can appreciate being a thorough lyricist and putting one’s own analysis and artistic spin on difficult topics. (which nothing in music/film/tv/gaming/anything really does but making a point, I hate the offended nonsense…the baseline causes are good but being turned into jokes by constant offense.)

  5. Eric Church is da bomb! His lyrics and style transcend most of the others. I can listen to his music all day and never get bored.

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