I told you guys at the end of the OK Human review that I'd see you guys in May and when I wrote that, I didn't actually think this album was gonna be out this month. But, here we are, Van Weezer is here. For those who need a little refresher, this album was originally supposed to be out this month last year, coinciding with the Hella Mega Tour with Fall Out Boy and Green Day, COVID happened, and the album got delayed indefinitely to the point where I honestly forgot about it. In January of this year, the band dropped OK Human and also announced that this album would be out in May. I know I already gave OK Human a full and positive review but I'll just say again, Weezer took a risk and it paid off big time. Van Weezer on the other hand is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from OK Human. For starters, while there wasn't a single electric guitar on OK Human, Van Weezer picks up that slack with super chunky and thick leads all over the album. Also, Van Weezer shows Rivers being a lot less introspective lyrically, rather writing more fun and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. I don't really think either of these things matter in the long run as OK Human still felt like a Weezer album at its core, but this one feels a little less authentic in some way? I don't know, I think I just got spoiled with OK Human.
(From L to R:) Brian Bell, Rivers Cuomo, Patrick Wilson, and Scott Shriner in a promotional photo for Van Weezer.
A lot of the singles get out of the way in the first half of the album, Hero, The End of The Game, and I Need Some of That. And I don't mean that in a negative way, the singles are all great. Hero shows Rivers singing about these larger-than-life fantasies he had as a kid, saying he wanted to swing from webs and chase down bad guys, but as he grew older he realized that these things were impossible and he started realizing that the world was mean and life isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Then there's I Need Some of That which the band dedicated to the late Ric Ocasek who produced a handful of their records and was generally just an important figure in Weezer's career. The guitars in the intro are grand, blazing, and they really kick off the song well. Rivers sings on the song about how playing guitar and listening to Rock music changed his life and opened his eyes to a whole new world. He sings about how "plugging into a Marshall stack" made him feel like he could be anything he wanted to be. I also love that line in the chorus where he sings "Even if we blow up / We're never gonna grow up!" It's not like that sentiment is new to Weezer at all but it always just puts a smile on my face. And my favorite of the three and probably my favorite song on this album is The End of The Game which kind of sucks because it's the oldest song of all of these.
The song kicks off with some Eddie Van Halen-type tapping and some gigantic chords that make the song go off like a bomb. The riff might be a little bland but who cares, this thing slaps. There's also an awesome breakdown around 2 minutes in that leads to more tapping and another super grand chorus. It's the closest we get to a Blue Album song on here. It's classic Weezer through and through. But after this point in the album there aren't too many more highlights. The song All The Good Ones isn't bad. It's more mid-tempo (think Beverly Hills) and the lyrics on this song are pretty cheesy but I don't hold Rivers to the same lyrical standard as I do some of his contemporaries like Tyler Joseph or Brandon Flowers. There are lyrics about how "Rock n' Roll sounds better in the car" and how Rivers loves seeing her play guitar and dive "down on the whammy bar." The chorus is catchy though and the guitar leads on this song are great so I can put some of that cheesiness aside. Then Beginning of the End closes out the first half of the album with the beginning of the song being just Rivers and his guitar then at a minute in, the rest of the band kicks in. I didn't know this until I did this review but this song was written for that Bill and Ted: Face The Music movie so the lyrics tie into the same themes as that, a world where the life of rock and roll is threatened. The second verse does that the best with Rivers saying "Nostradamus predicted a bomb would drop / And all our guitars will be hung in an old pawn shop." And honestly, the guitar work on here gives me a lot of Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins vibes just with how it goes from being super soft and shy to extreme distortion with a super simple riff too.
But after this point, this album just falls apart at the seams starting with the song Blue Dream which just blatantly rips off Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne. Yes, I know technically a rip off because Ozzy got a writing credit and they credited him with interpolation but still, they don't even try to rip it off in a creative way. It's like they were shopping for riffs at a store and Rivers was like, "Oh hey, Crazy Train is on sale let's buy that." The lyrics on the song don't really help its case either with Rivers singing about going to the beach and swimming in the ocean? There are actual lyrics here where Rivers sings, "The octopus says hi / I say, "How do you do?" / He's quite the gentleman" which sounds absolutely hilarious over this chugging guitar riff. Lyrically, this album continues to suffer on the next song, 1 More Hit, and this one hurts more because I understand what Rivers was going for. It's a song that's supposed to be about a drug addict who's indulging one last time before they quit cold turkey but it's so terribly written that it's funny. Especially the line that's been memed to death already "Pump it into me / Please, Daddy." There has to have been a better way to have written that line.
Sheila Can Do It and She Needs Me are both pretty forgettable songs. There's nothing too terribly bad or good about either of these songs to make them stand out on this tracklist. Although I will say, I do think She Needs Me is a nice burst of life at the end of this album with the speedy, toe-tapping guitars and catchy hook in the chorus. Precious Metal Girl closes out the album acoustically and while I do think that's River's lyrics here are pretty sweet and sort of tongue in cheek, it's not really enough to save this album at its last moments. I do want to point out that one line in the chorus that always cracks me up though where Rivers sings that this girl looks like she "could've been in Faster Pussycat" which is just so random that I can't help but laugh at it.
So is Van Weezer better than OK Human? Does this album with Weezer going back to the basics turn out their strongest album in recent memory? Are this album and OK Human gonna be #1 and #2 on my AOTY list? Well, the answer to all of these questions is no. I think what kills this album is just how inconsistent it is. It starts off really great and really strong and then just falls off of a cliff in the last half. It also hurts to know that both of my favorite songs on here were already out as singles waaaaaaay before we got this album. I don't know, I was gonna say it might be a result of the band overworking themselves but meanwhile, they're planning on dropping 4 albums in 2022, and I'm curious to see what they pull off. In the meantime, this album isn't terrible, but if you didn't like any of the singles, I doubt you'll enjoy sitting through it.
This is an album that's had my interest piqued for a minute now, ever since it was being teased. There are a few reasons for that, the first being the all-star lineup performing on this album. First is Jon Randall, a man who's been writing and producing for numerous artists all throughout Nashville, from legends like Dwight Yoakum and Reba McEntire, Texas stars like Pat Green and Parker McCollum, and today's superstars like Dierks Bentley, Maren Morris, and Miranda Lambert. Then there's Jack Ingram who is a legend in the Texas Country circuit. He's been writing and recording music for almost 25 years now and, at one point, was probably gonna be country's next huge star after signing to Big Machine Records and dropping some great singles. Most notably the songs Wherever You Are and Barefoot and Crazy, both of which were huge hits on Country Radio in the mid to late 2000s but even before that, he had been killing it in the Texas circuit for years and I still believe that Hey You is one of the best Texas Country albums ever released. After he and Big Machine parted ways, he went 6 years without new music which eventually led to Midnight Motel which might be his best songwriting probably ever. His lyrics and storytelling all over the album are insanely solid. Whether it's the catchy and hell-raising I'm Drinking Through It or the hilarious Blaine's Ferris Wheel, this album was a solid return to form for Ingram.
And then there's Miranda Lambert who I'm pretty sure is the reason everyone is going to listen to this album. I know some people reading this might not completely know Miranda but I want to be the first to tell you, she's way more than just the girl who used to be married to Blake Shelton. After bursting onto the scene in 2005, she's gone on to pen some of the genre's defining breakup and revenge songs with Gunpowder & Lead, White Liar, and of course, Mama's Broken Heart. After splitting up with Shelton in 2015, she dropped the double album The Weight of These Wings a year after which was easily her most personal and stripped-back album to date and it also brought Ingram and Randall into the fold for writing. And that double album is partly the reason we have this album here with us. In 2015, the three of them spent a weekend in Marfa, Texas and were just blown away by its beauty and how inspired it made them so they kept returning and kept writing songs.
(From L to R): Jon Randall, Jack Ingram, and Miranda Lambert photographed in Marfa, Tx during the recording of the album.
The other reason I was excited for this album was because of the concept behind it. When this album was announced, the trio made it clear that this album was meant to sound like you were at a campfire and one of your buddies brought a guitar. The only recording gear for this album was two guitars, two microphones, and three bodies and all of the little imperfections really add to this album's character. Whether it's wind blowing, a fire crackling, or the sound of Ingram hitting his guitar and laughing at a few lines in the song Homegrown Tomatoes, the idea they had for this album was executed perfectly. I will mention two tracks on this album before this review starts, those being Tin Man and Tequila Does only because these songs have both already made their way onto different Miranda albums but I will say, the version of Tin Man on here is definitely better than the studio version. Miranda's voice shines a lot more and this one just feels a lot more emotional in my opinion.
The album opens with In His Arms which is the perfect way to kick this album off. If it was given the right polishes and treatment, Miranda could probably rule the radio, but in this state, it's a beautiful, shimmering tune about a cowboy who got away. Miranda wonders on the song where he's at, asking if he's "breaking horses in San Antone" or "praying for rain out in West Texas." I also love Randall and Ingram's little vocal additions to the song that provide some great harmonies. I Don't Like It is a duet between Ingram and Lambert and lyrically, this song is really sweet. Ingram sings in the verses about how he loves it when he and his lover make plans about how they're gonna grow old together and loves when she says his name and sings him songs that he'll sing all the wrong words too. Then in the chorus, he and Lambert sing:
But I don't like it when you walk away I don't like it when you disappear I don't like being away from you I don't like it when you're not here
And if you need a reminder of the recording situation for this album, listen close at the end of the song and you'll be able to hear cows mooing. The Wind's Just Gonna Blow has some more beautiful harmonies in the chorus and I really love the writing on here again with Lambert and Ingram singing about a person whose life is falling apart all around them and no matter what they do, they can't change the outcomes because the "dust ain't ever gonna settle / and the winds just gonna blow."
Am I Right or Amarillo I think is a weak moment lyrically but it's still a fun song and Randall's singing on the song is actually pretty solid. I also love Jack at the end telling him, "That's country!" Waxahachie picks up the slack lyrically with a solid verse right in the middle of the song. Lambert sings about leaving New Orleans pissed off and needing help asking if this person who lives in Waxahachie can be there for them. And like I said, there's a beautifully written second verse here where Miranda sings:
I can run from the demons like the devil in a speedin' car I've got enough gasoline, memories and nicotine Freedom's ovеrrated, guess I underеstimated the truth And you
Homegrown Tomatoes is a super fun song that could be a solid party song if given the proper studio treatment. Especially the chorus with Randall and Lambert telling a buddy to come and sing them a country song since they're "all f*cked up, falling in love" and everyone will sing along. I also have to say that the "doot doot doo's" throughout the song makes it even more fun as if Ingram's loud WHATs and general enthusiasm for the song doesn't make it fun enough already. I also love Ingram's ramble at the end of the song where he says in a mocking tone, "WhAt'S tHaT sOnG aBoUt?" then answering himself saying, "I don't know, just hand me a beer!" And of course, right after this super fun song comes Breaking a Heart which brings you back down the ground pretty quickly with Randall singing a tear-jerker wondering which part of a breakup is worse, being heartbroken? or breaking someone's heart? While the person Randall is singing about is obviously about to break up with their significant other, it's tearing them apart inside with Randall singing "What if I regret givin' up the fight?" and singing in the second verse, "I really do wish you were the one letting go." This decision to end this relationship is extremely tough for this person and the emotional toll of having to break up with their significant other is really affecting their decision to do so, they even ask themselves, "How am I getting through this?" Ghost is another breakup song but it has a lot more humor in it with Lambert singing about how she burned all of this guy's jeans and "pearl snap shirts." There's also a hilarious line in the second verse where she says, "If you're such a poet, write an epitaph" and another one in the third verse where she sings, "I replaced the headboard with a chiseled stone / Here lies the meanest man I've ever known." The general sentiment of the song is that Miranda has moved so far past this ex that's he's pretty much a ghost to her "and I ain't afraid of ghosts."
Geraldene is another funny song with Lambert singing about a girl who Miranda has said is either the cousin or sister of Jolene from the legendary Dolly Parton song. Pretty much, Geraldene is trying to live just like Jolene but Miranda is telling her she'll never be as cool as Jolene so quit trying. She even tells Geraldene in the chorus, "Why you gotta make me mean / Don't make me cause a scene now Geraldene." Miranda's singing on this song is sassy and in the chorus, there's a certain grit to it that makes it even better. There's also an awesome moment near the end of the song where Miranda stutters through saying Geraldene's name which makes them all sort of giggle but I guess Miranda liked how it sounded because she keeps doing it throughout the outro. They also all start cracking jokes about it too which is another one of those moments where you can see just how much these three enjoy being together writing these songs. We'll Always Have The Blues is another small weak point lyrically but I still really like this song especially the recurring line throughout the song about how Ingram can't have this girl he wants but they'll "always have the blues." I know I already touched on this album's version of Tin Man but I still think this song deserves more recognition than what I said at the beginning, this version is beautiful and I still think it's one of the best songs Miranda has ever recorded. I also love the banter at the end where Jack jokingly says, "Hey how 'bout another try? I'm not sure about that one." Miranda agrees and says, "My string was buzzin', my capo was crooked," to which Jack replies, "Shut up! That was your brain buzzin', that's great!" Two-Step Down in Texas is definitely gonna be a fun song to hit the dancefloor too, it 100% has that two-step rhythm, though lyrically, it just seems like Lambert and Randall made a list of everything Texan they could think of and were just checking off to see how many they could fit in this song. I won't complain too much though because I hope the next time I hear this, I'm in the middle of a honky-tonk spinning some cowgirl around on the dancefloor (even though I probably couldn't dance to a song like this to save my life.)
The album ends just as strong as it started with an awesome final stretch. Anchor is a song that Ingram sings and...I can't believe that he's been sitting on this for a minute, this song is fantastic. The lyrics show Jack likening this lover to an anchor telling her to pull him under into all of her love and affection and telling her when he's with her, he can fly. His voice on the song too seems almost pained but it fits perfectly here on this song. Tequila Does is another song that Miranda has already recorded but it's fun to hear super stripped back like this. Then the album closes with Amazing Grace (West Texas) which almost seems like a credits roll type moment with Randall just celebrating Marfa for being such a great background for this project. Randall sings on the song about how it's amazing grace for it to rain in West Texas or to see the sunset. I also find it hilarious that Randall sings about how "you can hear cattle from a million miles away" while cows can be heard mooing out in the distance. The album ends with Lambert and Ingram telling Randall the song is beautiful, saying cheers, sharing a laugh, then walking away.
You know what, I won't sugarcoat this at all, this is an amazing album. This album was a big risk and a very bold move for a country singer with the popularity Lambert has but I honestly think she's at a point in her career where she just doesn't care. She's gonna make what she wants to make and fans can either buy it or not. I think that this was a risk that really paid off. While I do have a gripe or two about lyrics every now and then, none of them are so glaring that I have to point it out. At its weakest moments, this album is still very enjoyable and shows all of these artists in their most raw state possible. This album strips country down to its bare essentials and in my opinion, that's all it needs. Just an acoustic guitar and great songwriting. I know I mentioned this at the beginning of this review but this album honestly does sound like sitting around a campfire with a bunch of buddies and someone breaks out a guitar. Just to drive it home one more time, I love this album. Love, love, love this album. And I don't care if you like country music or not, everyone should be able to appreciate good songwriting so give this a shot if you find the time.
I would rate
The Marfa Tapes
By Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram, and Jon Randall
The Marfa Tapes is available to stream wherever you get your music from. Links for Apple Music and Spotify are below. Vinyl copies of the album are available both online and at your local music store!
If you know me at all, you know I'll always go to battle for modern country music. While I could always add on to the never-ending echo chamber of "cOuNtRy Is AlL aBoUt BeEr GiRlS aNd TrUcKs" or take constant dumps on artists like Florida Georgia Line or Sam Hunt (both have some decent songs I will say), there's still a lot of great country music out today, even on the radio with artists like Jon Pardi, Luke Combs, and Brothers Osbourne being some immediate standouts. And of course, country still has its superstars with people like Jason Aldean, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan, people who are still gonna sell millions of records and sell-out arena shows like they're going out of style. There's always been one artist of that second category who's always managed to stay relevant while also being on the genre's cutting edge and that is the guy we're here to talk about today, Eric Church. And when I say "cutting edge" I mean that loosely because to make something more interesting than what tends to rule country radio isn't that tough to do but Church always manages to find a seamless blend of making music that stands out from the pop-country norm (snap beats, over-processed vocals, things like that) but it also somehow always appeals to the masses.
Another thing that I think helps him is that he's always sort of had this outlaw image in the genre, someone who isn't going to be confined to a single genre and someone who isn't gonna let labels or critics determine what his next move and he gained it pretty early on in his career. After he released his first album, Sinners Like Me, in 2006, he hit the road opening first for Brad Paisley and that tour went well, where he went wrong was his second stint opening up for Rascall Flatts. According to Church, the band had "strict rules" for their opening acts and he never abided by them, most notably, their sound and time restrictions as every night, Church would play longer than his time slot and play louder than he was allowed to. Halfway through the tour, Church was fired. According to him, he was only given a 15 minute time slot and the two acts combined just didn't fit well together. All worked out well though as Church then got the job opening for Bob Seager and the opening slot for Rascall Flatts was taken by some girl who was on the come-up in Nashville. I don't know if y'all know her but her name was Taylor Swift? I don't know what ever came of her career but I hope she's been doing well.
Church in a promotional image for the new albums.
Needless to say, I've been anticipating new music from Church for a while but at the same time, I hadn't been paying attention to him at all which is why it took me a little while to realize that Eric already had some singles out at the end of last year. I think the first time I listened to any of his new material was when he announced this triple album and by that time he already had 6 singles out. And no, that's not a typo, this is actually supposed to be a triple album with the concept being three albums named Heart, &, Soul. Yes, there's an album named &, but I can't review it for you guys as it's only available through Eric Church's fan club on vinyl but hopefully, it gets a proper release sometime in the future. For now, we can only talk about Heart and Soul. The triple album is mainly a result of the recording process for this album. It was recorded inside of a restaurant in the mountains of North Carolina and the goal was for Church and his band to write and record a song every day until they felt like they were done. The reason they did this was because while recording Desperate Man, the album before this, Church felt like everyone got a little too comfortable and they spent too much time second-guessing themselves. With the song-a-day concept, there was no time to be comfortable and Church said it led them to taking more risks since they weren't sitting on half-finished songs for 6 or 7 months.Both albums are 9 songs long, run about 32 minutes in length, and they're both projects that can hold their own weight and are pretty individual. The only thing that really stays consistent stylistically is the production and Eric singing the songs. If you want a quick summary of both albums before I dive in, it goes like this: Heart is Church going a little more rock-heavy with some more distorted riffs and a bit more energy while Soul is a bit funkier and groovier.
Church performing live at the Allstate Arena in Chicago, IL.
Heart with the song Heart on Fire, which is a pretty straightforward country-rock song. The lyrics hit some pretty common tropes for a country song with Eric singing about how a road is too rough for his truck and how when he met this love interest he mentions, they weren't old enough to drink but they "damn sure did it." There are also some nods to Elvis Presley and Guns n' Roses but on this song the lyrics don't really need to be groundbreaking. What keeps the song interesting is the instrumentation and Eric's performance on the song, also the chorus on this song is great with that "A TURNED UP RADIO BUT THE STATIC WAS HEAVY!" hook at the beginning, it's a pretty solid opening song. I get some Bruce Springsteen vibes from the song Heart of the Night right after this. Between Eric's writing and the drums all over the song, I can't really nail what era of Springsteen this reminds me of he was definitely an influence on this song. Especially when it comes to the chorus where Eric sings:
Put lightning in this Thunderbird till the metal comes alive
The rhythm of the road will give these horses wings to fly
And my true north is anywhere I can leave it all behind
Let’s point this thing west into the chest of the still beating heart of the night
I also love the huge bursts of cymbals, guitars, and choir voices during that last verse and the bridge on this song is fantastic as well with some a bit more ambience and Eric once again dropping some great lyrics about his dad saying that factory wages are weighing on his shoulders and he doesn't want to go out the same way as he did.Russian Roulette instrumentally reminds me of one of his earlier songs Give Me Back My Hometown to the point where it's almost annoying how similar they are, which is a bummer because I think this song is fantastic but unless it's intentional, I don't see how this one got past so many people without anyone telling Eric, "Hey, you know how similar these sound?" But like I said, this song is fantastic and is one of my favorites on here. Lyrically he's singing about getting in his truck and taking off after either a breakup or an argument or something. I'm not sure what it is but he's dead set on getting out of dodge saying that he has "lead foot in a steel toe." But the chorus provides a little twist, Church sings that nothing can stop him from leaving but a song comes on the radio as he's twisting the knob that reminds him of all the good times he had with whoever he broke up with or fought with saying:
Ain’t nothing gonna kill these horses tonight But a song like a bullet from a dashboard light Gettin’ shot through the speakers both left and right in stereo
Messin’ up my head, playin’ Russian Roulette with the radio
The song instrumentally is pretty tense with some piano chords and faint guitar chords leading the song until about a minute and a half in when some drums appear. There's also a great section about 2 minutes in where there's a nice guitar solo and some more energy but it doesn't last too long as everything drops out for the bridge before the chorus kicks in one more time with the full band.
People Break is the most subdued song on the album with a super stripped-back instrumental compared to the songs prior. The lyrics on this song show a character who is, as the title suggests, broken. He's lamenting over a past lover who's moved on in life without him and he's not too happy about it. The second verse really reflects that with Eric singing:
The ice on Hawk Lake this timе of year
Broken and busted just like my bathroom mirror
So hard to see what lies there beneath
Shattered reflections like the pieces of me
The chorus on the song is pretty sad too with lines about how people break and try, how sometimes people leave and love dies, and it ends with Eric singing "Now I gotta do the hardest part / Break the news to a broken heart." Then there's Stick That In Your Country Song which was the first song released before all of these projects and it's easily one of the most compelling songs that he's ever recorded. Everything about this song is incredible and if I had been paying attention, this easily would've made it onto my Best Songs of 2020 list. It reminds me a lot of the song on the new Chris Stapleton album, Watch You Burn which actually took the #1 spot on that list. There's a similar sinister vibe to it. The song is Eric pretty much calling out Nashville and all of country music with an argument that's a common sentiment among most music fans that goes something like "I miss when country music said something." From the first verse alone, Eric is sharp and pissed off singing:
Take me on up to Detroit City
Jails are full, the factories empty
Mama's crying, young boys dying
Under that red, white, and blue still flying
Drop me off in Baltimore
Where every other window's got a plywood board
Where dreams become drugs and guns
The only way out is to shoot or run
The second verse doesn't hold much back either with Eric singing about how badly a lot of veterans in this country get treated saying that this solider is "23 going on 54" and how he's lost his friend, his sight, his hands and has a "baby girl he'll never see again." I also like Eric's writing on the third verse pretty much saying that if these other artists want to write songs like this, he doesn't want them to just phone it in or try to pander, he wants to feel it and he wants it to be authentic. Right after he sings a line about blowing the speakers out of his car the song just explodes with layered, distorted guitars, a choir behind him, and it's incredible. Eric's final verse on the song shows him talking about a school teacher who's underpaid and overworked yet she'll still be there in the crowd to support the show with Eric saying, "Shout one out to her!"
And similar to the Stapleton album, right after the fieriest song on the album, the album immediately tones it back 3 notches with the song Never Break Heart. It's another pretty straightforward country-rock song and I think it's one of the more average songs on this album. Besides a pretty solid instrumental there's nothing that really makes this track stand out. The lyrics on this song might be the blandest on the album but hey, Eric writing something kind of bland is still better than a lot of newer pop-country artists trying their hardest. I will say, to this song's benefit, I do like the positivity of the chorus with Eric telling, presumably, a son or daughter to have a strong heart. He makes a lot of different connections, I like the first one the most personally where Eric sings:
So go on and get born heart
Let your mama keep you warm heart
Get down in the dirt heart
Go on, get hurt heart
Live and let learn heart
Don’t let fear steal your brave heart
Don’t let doubt take your faith heart
It’s okay to cry
But don’t never break heart
Crazyland is a song that actually came to Eric in a dream telling Zane Lowe that he dreamed the end of the song, woke up, and told himself, "I'll remember this in the morning," and when he couldn't fall back asleep, he got up and wrote the song. The song is Eric lost in his head after a breakup and the lyrics really reflect that with Eric in the first verse singing:
That's Sad in the corner with his heart on his sleeve
Talking to Regret, who's never gonna leave
Over there playing pool is Fool and Lost
And tending bar tonight that's All My Fault
We all just hang out and listen to Blues
Sing his songs, there's nothing else to do in
I also really like the chorus with Eric sort of sitting back and reflecting saying, "Damn, times have been crazy since she walked out on me." I like the lines at the end where he says "Talking to yourself is the only plan / giving up on your last give a damn / Here in crazyland." Bunch of Nothing is a barnburner and just a super fun song to tack on near the end of the album. It has a huge "sitting around the campfire with your buddies" vibes and this song sounds like they were just having fun in the studio, I can almost hear the smile on Eric's face. The chorus of this song is fun as hell with Eric telling a friend who just got his heart broke, "Don't worry about it, I can help you forget her real quick" singing about how he knows how to find bass in a river, he knows how to make moonshine, and my personal favorite line on this song, "I know how to tune a six string Martin / And kick Saturday in the ass." And in my honest opinion, Heart doesn't end as strong as I think it could. I think Love Shine Down is a good song but it doesn't really feel like an album closer to me. I still think there's stuff to like here, mainly the lyrics and Eric's performance, but I don't know, I'm just sort of underwhelmed with how this half of the album ends.
Soul kicks off with Rock & Roll Found Me, a pretty laid-back song with Eric singing about his introduction to Rock music and how it slipped into the cracks of his life. I like the line at the end of the chorus where he sings about when he turned up all his amps at once "the blind could see." Look Good And You Know It is a super funky and groovy song with an obvious Soul influence (roll credits) and I think Eric knocked this sound out of the park. I don't think there's too much not to like about this song. Eric's performance and his lyrics on this song are charismatic and he just kills it. There's a few funny lines in the chorus where he sings: "I ain’t cryin’ there’s just something in my eye / I ain’t dyin’ ‘cause you came in here tonight." You can really tell that the influence here comes more from a place of respect and admiration than imitation. Bright Side Girl is a song with a positive message about Eric's wife pulling him out of one of his darkest times and bringing a lot of light into his life. The lyrics here are super sweet with Eric saying she's his shelter from the storm and how she's a ray of hope at the end of a dark road. But the album really starts hitting its stride right after this song with Break It Kind Of Guy.
This song is an undeniable banger and Eric's swagger on this song is off the charts. The lyrics are cocky as hell but who cares and Eric's outlaw brand is turned up to 11 on here saying that "when it comes to raisin' hell 'bout to take y'all to school" and near the end saying "Don't tell me how to sing it / It's my damn song." The first verse is a funny story of a man who woke up "feeling dangerous" so he loaded his gun, put some whiskey in his coffee, and called his boss's son to tell him to tell his dad that he's tired of his sh*t. The second verse is that outlaw brand really coming through saying that he's not too big on abiding by laws and following rules and dropping that "raisin' hell" line I mentioned earlier. Then right after this is Hell of a View which is probably going to rule the radio if it's not already because it's a perfect country and rock blend. The chorus on this song is fantastic and while it might suffer from having some pretty basic verses, I'll just let that slide because I love this song so much. The line at the end of the chorus where he sings "you holdin' me, holdin' you / It's a hell of a view" is just perfect and it's classic Eric Church through and through. Where I Wanna Be is two steps back when it comes to the energy and the guitars at the beginning of the song are super messy but Eric's performance makes up for it. The lyrics have a sweet sentiment, pretty much Eric saying that he's been all around the world but wherever his lover is is where he wants to be. Jenny is a nice little acoustic number but I feel like this song could've been left on the cutting room floor. There's nothing really here both instrumentally or lyrically that jumps out at me.
I will say that Soul definitely ends stronger than Heart does. Bad Mother Trucker is a fun song about a mom who makes a living off of truck driving. He sings about how all the guys laugh when she buckles in but she smiles at them as she passes them. I also like the line about how the narrator was "raised on jerky from here to Albuquerque." And the album ends with Lynyrd Skynard Jones which is the best storytelling song on both albums. The song is about a kid who is born biracial to a single mother and a father who abandoned the family who travels through life confused until he starts playing guitar and discovers his love for music. There's a twist end on the song where the father shows up to the mom's funeral and introduces himself to the son too which is really just Eric flexing his storytelling muscle one last time.
Church photographed outside of the studio where the album was recorded.
So overall, I came out of these albums with a very positive attitude. I knew it was gonna be tough for me to not like an Eric Church album and while there are definitely a few songs here or there that could be cut, I think these two albums work well together. If I really wanted to complain, I could say that this could easily be condensed into a 13 song album and be his best work since Chief (which I found out is already 10 years old today) but given all of the songs he dropped pre-release, I can't imagine I would've come into it as excited as I was for these two albums. I also can't wait to see how a lot of these songs pan out live as his live performances are said to be insane. I haven't had the chance to see him live yet but I'm trying to make his Fort Worth show next April a priority. So once again, solid albums, and I hope that one day, & becomes available to the general public, just so I can see what I'm missing out on.
I would rate
by Eric Church
Eric is hitting the road starting on September 17th for the "Gather Again" Tour with tickets going on sale Friday. Full list of dates HERE.
Streaming links for both Heart and Soul are down below. CDs and Vinyl copies of both albums can be bought either on Eric's website or at your local record store.