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Church is in session

TD BankNorth, Boston, April 30, 2015

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Eric Church's choir is growing pretty large these days. Taking a perhaps risky approach with his latest CD, the edgy rocking with purpose "The Outsiders," along with the even riskier decision to play large-scale arenas, Church showed that the risks were worth it in a record setting show.

Church not only had to have faith in himself - and that is apparent in concert - but also that his material is worthy with fans willing to go along for the ride. On that count, score a big one for Church.

Church led the charge of his band of brothers onstage with acoustic guitar in hand to set the tone by launching into "The Outsiders" in what would be the longest show of the tour. "The Outsiders" is a taut, sharp-edged declaration: "They're the in-crowd/we're the other ones." With one song and an embracing hand gesture, Church quickly had the largest crowd he's played before in Boston behind him.

In many respects, Church may appear to be the good old boy with a lot of songs about drinking - "Jack Daniels," the catchy, sing-along "Drink in My Hand" and "Cold One" - and not necessarily living the upright life ("Smoke a Little Smoke," about smoking weed and drinking) and "Sinners Like Me."

But Church does not write or sing of the good time life like other country acts out there. He also has depth, particularly with his Springsteen-like anthem, "Give Me Back My Hometown," longing for the good old days.

Changes in tempo, instrumentation and sonics helped set Church apart.

And while Church has a goodly number of hits, he also was not handcuffed by them. In fact, he leaned into his deep catalogue. Nearing the end when many would trot out their hits, Church played "Keep On," Longer Gone," "Over When It's Over" and "What I Almost Was." None were even singles, but Church aptly proved he had faith in his music (and fans) to do the show he wanted.

As for the hits, Church was not a "press play" artist either as he altered the delivery from recorded versions.

As he did earlier on this tour, last year in Manchester, N.H., Church gave his band a good amount of leeway. Chief among them is the hip looking lead guitarist Driver Williams with a thick, very long silver goatee and guitar licks to match. Backing singer Joanna Cotten was kept off-stage until halfway through until "That's Damn Rock & Roll," but from there, she showed her bluesy vocal chops. The banjo playing of Jeff Hyde was seemingly ever present, underpinning a country feel that sometimes would head towards rock.

Church shown tremendous growth over the years. In fact, he reminisced slightly at one point during the extremely generous (about 2- hours) show recalling various clubs he played in Beantown, including at much smaller club venues. But it's not just in numbers. For Church, the confidence is palpable along with a catalogue to match.

While developing as an artist, Church struck a tough guy pose, which didn't particularly seem to fit. But the us versus the world sentiments Church now espouses seems to have worked wonders for him. Church is in session.

Chris Stapleton is quite well known - well at least his songs are - and he's trying to change that. The long-haired Kentucky native is the pen behind such hits as ""Never Wanted Nothing More" by Kenny Chesney, but now he is forging his own career with his debut out on Tuesday.

Stapleton's calling card has been his ultra-soulful vocal delivery, which reeks of authenticity.

There were songs dealing with drinking (a cover of George Jones' "Tennessee Whiskey" and heartache), although he was more of a soul than country singer.

Stapleton seemed to be better suited to a smaller venue, however. His sound and songs were on target, but he tended to face inward towards his wife, Morgane, on every song, meaning a good chunk of fans stage left never got to see his face ever.

Stapleton, unfortunately put up a barrier with at least some of the crowd as a result. Too bad because the music connects.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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