The cover of newbie Eric Church's debut shows him looking disconsolate grasping a glass of whiskey with a big bottle of booze nearby. But don't think this is tears in your beer, hard core honky tonk music.
That's clear from the soaring rock guitar lines of "Before She Does" where Church hits easy targets with cries lauding "Mama's apple pie" and claiming "the tax man and the devil share the same address." "Lightning," a first-person song about the final hours of a death row prisoner doesn't quite sound convincing especially for a guy sounding so tough.
The music tends to sound too bright, loud and exact a chunk of the time ("Can't Take It With You," "Two Pink Lines"). Surprising because the North Carolinian, who helped write all 12 songs, often sings of the hardscrabble life. Perhaps the best is the title track where the pace is not rushed. And Church gets into the vocals (he sounds a lot like Keith Urban) on "These Boots" with lots of good picking. The faded football hero dreams of the building "What I Almost Was" also works quite well.
But it's getting real old to invoke the name and voice of Merle Haggard as if that automatically extends his street cred to the artist. Church does so on the catchy "Pledge Allegiance to the Hag." The loud guitar and drum attack indicate Church isn't pledging allegiance to Hag's sound exactly like he claims. When Church tones it done, he's a lot better off. Church sings of a lot of down-and-outers, but maybe his surname prevents him from really showing who he is.