Eric Church’s sophomore release Carolina is an achievement in originality. Church has wisely re-teamed with producer Jay Joyce, whose unconventional methods enhance Church’s unique country-rock sound. A true album, Carolina is cohesive yet dynamic, satisfying Church’s mission to “…make a record and I hope I have singles,” and not the other way around.
Carolina leaps out of the gate with the manic, amped-up scorcher “Ain’t Killed Me Yet” re-establishing Eric Church as the rebellious, youthful, hard living son-of-a-gun that fans of Sinners Like Me know. He doesn’t let up with “Lotta Boot Left To Fill,” picking a fight with those who think “If it looks good on TV it will look good on a CD,” arguing, “I ain’t doggin’ what you’re doing/But then again, hell yes I am/I just don’t give a damn/Cause you still got a lotta boot left to fill.” The top of the album maintains its driving pace with “Young And Wild.” Listen closely and you’ll find that Joyce has a few tricks up his sleeve—like running tracks backwards—to push the energy level even higher.
Not until the fourth track does Church allow a glimpse of his softer side with the ballad “Where She Told Me To Go,” which, in keeping with the prevailing attitude, paints him as a stubborn, bitter fool. Here Joyce begins to introduce the soft, smeared edges that echo throughout much of the rest of the album, proving that a washed-out sonic landscape is still a powerful option in the ultra-clean digital era.
As the mood starts to mellow, Carolina eases into the lead single “Love Your Love The Most,” a laundry list of things he loves, like “Good cold beer and mustard on my fries/I love a good loud honky-tonk, it rocks on Friday nights,” which is perhaps a poor representation of the originality and energy this album carries.
Church had a hand in writing each of the album’s 12 tracks, but his solo efforts are his best. “You Made It Look So Easy” and title track “Carolina” have a heart and sincerity that can’t be matched by any of the album’s committee-penned tunes, although a few, including “Those I’ve Loved,” come close. In a nice progression from the album’s hard-hitting opening, Church seems to have found some peace in coming home to Carolina.