Country singer Eric Church has undoubtedly built a legacy for himself with countless chart-topping singles, five platinum-selling albums, ten Grammy nominations, and several Academy of Country Music Awards. A singer who treasures the unconventional, Church is always striving to challenge himself as an artist and produce something that is creatively innovative.
Church’s latest music project—an ambitious trilogy album called Heart & Soul—masters that innovative drive. The first of the series, Heart was released on April 16. & followed on April 20, but was released exclusively to members of his ‘Church Choir’ fan club, comprised of his most devoted fans. The last of the albums, Soul, dropped on Friday.
In the mountain town of Banner Elk, N.C., Church and his crew, including producer Jay Joyce, set up a makeshift recording studio in a restaurant that had closed during the winter. Church and Joyce said they hoped to capture the unique acoustics of the restaurant’s barn wood interior. A rotating group of songwriters and instrumentalists were brought to the studio every few days. It was a month-long process in which each day the group wrote a song in the morning and recorded it in the evening.
Church opens his Heart album with the lively “Heart On Fire.” Through his lyrics, Church mentions and pays tribute to a wide range of artists including Elvis Presley, Don McLean, and Guns N’ Roses. Church is joined by a choir and a vivacious electric guitar backing. He takes a soulful turn with “Heart Of The Night.” Creating a narrative that is notably Bruce Springsteen–esque, Church references small factory towns, young love, and the journey to find one’s true north as he sings, “Put lightning in this Thunderbird ’til the metal comes alive / The rhythm of the road will give these horses wings to fly.”
“Russian Roulette” has a brilliant build and an inspiring piano and guitar accompaniment. Highlighting the wonders of music, Church sings, “I need a melody without a memory / Take me where I’ve never been.”
“Stick That In Your Country Song” is another standout track from the album. In a Bob Dylan–like fashion, Church alludes to the harsh realities people face in everyday life that are not often referenced in popular music. He specifically calls attention to gun violence in America through lyrics such as “Mommas crying, young boys dying / Under that red, white, and blue still flying.”
Where Heart is reminiscent of Church’s country roots, Soul takes on more of an R&B vibe.
He begins the album with “Rock & Roll Found Me,” a soulful tune about how he discovered his passion for music. As he sings, “I turned on my amps and all at once my blind could see.”
“Look Good And You Know It” depicts a side of Church fans are unfamiliar with. It has a distinctive retro vibe, almost reflecting a motown sound. “Where I Wanna Be” is equally unique but takes on more of a bluesy spirit with its delightful addition of jazz guitars and electric keyboards.
Church concludes the Soul album with “Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones,” a poignant song about a young boy—named after his mother’s favorite band, Lynyrd Skynyrd—from Alabama with a gift for music. The only time he feels a sense of belonging is when he is playing his guitar. Church sincerely sings, “Well he found his salvation / In a pawn shop bought guitar / You can’t teach that kind of pickin’ / It’s got to come right from your heart.”
The work of an artist is to create. They have the incredible ability to reflect on the experiences people face in the world and turn them into song. Their love of music brought these artists together in a small North Carolina town, even during the most difficult of times. They were able to experience the creative process of music at its most authentic nature. Together, they produced three albums that are a remarkable blend of soulful country, honest storytelling, and hints of rock n’ roll.
Church is always looking to explore the roads less traveled when it comes to making music. He has surely done that, as he gracefully dances between pure country, lively rock, soulful blues, and heartfelt ballads. The process he underwent to produce this music with his crew was refreshingly authentic. And this time Church and his team did not just make one album with their heart and soul, they made three.
Photo Courtesy of Capitol Records Nashville