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Eric Church works hard for the choir

House of Blues, Boston, February 15, 2010

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Eric Church is one hard working guy. He tours hard, real hard, through two albums. The North Carolina native also charted with singles, but really never has had a major, breakthrough hit.

That has not kept people away, however. To his credit, Church drew almost a full house in the venue holding more than 2,000 with strong sales in the past week. His choir was an enthusiastic group as well singing along often and loud.

Church is touring behind "Carolina," which features Hell on the Heart. At some level, it's easy to understand why Church has done well despite the lack of being all over the radio. The main selling point has been his songs, which in reality can be a double-edged sword.

They are catchy, ultra catchy. In fact, almost every single song follows the same suit - they may start off on the slower side or even mid-tempo, but they pretty much are guaranteed to pick up in intensity, a bit louder and rocking more before they became anthemic singalongs like How 'Bout You and the very strong Pledge Allegiance to the Hag. The problem was the lack of surprise or excitement.

Church also could not be accused of being overly country either. A few songs filled that bill, such as the new Smoke a Little Smoke and These Boots from his debut, "Sinners Like Me." At times, a bit of twang or mandolin came through, but those were infrequent moments. Pounding drum beats and loud guitars with rock poses filled the space more often. It was also very cliche to cloak oneself in folks like Cash, Jennings and Hag by the younger set of country performers in an effort to pander to the bedrock, core artists of country while really having little to do with their music.

Despite that, what set Church apart was the quality of his songs, While tried and true, they were well written and presented. He's not the most dynamic performer with a few fist pumps here and there and not too many comments save for the end. Behind sunglasses and a baseball cap, one got the sense that the idea of playing before thousands did not come naturally.

Church has a lot of good songs and a pleasant enough show, but somehow it did not necessarily cut so deep.

Josh Thompson opened with a generally satisfying set. Thompson is the singer behind Beer on the Table, his first single and a hit at that with his debut CD coming out next week.

Like Church, his vocals were mixed up high, and the Wisconsin native has a good voice. At times, he recalled Gary Allan, though not as hard core country as Allan can be. Thompson's songs also were of quality, but he also fell victim to cliche with his choice of subject matter, which tended to be about beer and working hard.

In other words, like a lot of his contemporaries (read, Jason Aldean), he offered himself up as a blue collar country guy living for the weekend and working hard for his money. Of course, the money is used for booze. And Thompson also needed to emphasize that there was some risk involved with him. In introducing the song Sinners, he said, "If there's one song that definitely explains me, it's Sinners."

The intent was apparently to show that Thompson has a little bit of danger about him. His songs are fine and all, but dangerous? Nope.