Pop & Hiss

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Eric Church and the new Southern rock congregation

July 10, 2009 |  3:23 pm


There’s a new breed of Southern rocker who's laying waste to the stereotype of the genre being the exclusive domain of beer-drinkin’, flag-wavin’ good ol’ boys.

Not that the emerging generation is opposed to waving Old Glory or downing a brew, but there’s greater nuance as well as musical and emotional shading in the cream of this crop, spearheaded by Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser and Eric Church.

The intriguing part is that they’re selling respectable quantities of their freshmen and sophomore albums and drawing the kind of critical accolades often more commonly heaped on brainy alt-rock bands or sensitive folk-rooted singer-songwriter types.

Church gave a strong example of how these threads are being pulled together in a vibrant package with a private show this week in the outdoor foyer of the Capitol Records tower in Hollywood.

The North Carolina singer, guitarist and songwriter has been building a solid club following in the South and Midwest, one that he’s increasingly expanding into the Eastern Seaboard and Southwest. But he hasn’t had a major show yet in Southern California. He’s scheduled to get here in December, though label officials may push to get a showcase for him earlier than that.

Church got heaps of praise for his 2006 debut “Sinners Like Me” and has continued the good notices with the recently released follow-up, “Carolina.”

He drew from both in a muscular 30-minute set for about 100 onlookers, many invited as members of his fan club, the others Capitol employees who were getting their first live exposure to one of their Nashville division’s most promising acts.

He can drop a punch line with the deftness of Brad Paisley (“Before She Does”), inspire a bit of hell-raising a la Waylon and Willie at their outlaw finest (“Smoke a Little Smoke”) and fan the fires of romance as well as any of the heartthrobs dominating the country charts (“Love Your Love the Most”). Even then, he brings an uncommon dimension to his recounting of what he values (“I’m a fan of Faulkner books/And anything my mama cooks/And small-mouth bass have got me hooked on Sunday afternoon.”)

Despite restricting his five-piece Eric Church Band mostly to acoustic instruments for the Capitol gig, there was no shortage of musical voltage. “It’s going to get a lot louder than this when we come back in December,” Church vowed with a devilish grin while scribbling autographs after the set.

Yee-haw, indeed.

--Randy Lewis

Photo: Eric Church in 2007. Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times