Review: Church a little too macho on new CD

Eric Church, “Chief” (EMI Records Nashville)

Most country music tough guys balance their snarl with lighter moments. But rising country music star Eric Church swaggers and scowls through his third album, “Chief,” without easing the bare-knuckled attitude with novelty tunes or love ballads.

There’s none of Toby Keith’s humor, Trace Adkins’ sensitive ballads or Jamey Johnson’s probing self-examination. More than ever, Church’s songs revolve around drinking (“Jack Daniels,” “Drink In My Hand”) and fighting (”Keep On”). But the relentlessly macho attitude wears thin over 11 songs, even with detours into songs toasting musical idols (“Springsteen”) and bemoaning the stale state of his chosen music genre (”Country Music Jesus”).

Church’s ace-in-the-hold is producer Jay Joyce, who brings unusual rhythms and fresh arrangements to the rock-influenced songs. When “Chief” works, as on the opening “Creepin”’ and the album’s first hit “Homeboy — a moralistic lecture to a wayward brother— Church joins singers Jamey Johnson and Jason Aldean in showing how country music can move into the future with substance and integrity. But too much of “Chief” forces its belligerence, like the roughneck cowering at the end of the bar who never smiles or offers a tender word.

CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: “Hungover & Hard Up” slides a slinky funk groove into a lyric about a guy turning to the bottle to get over a lost love.

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