Eric Church: An Outsider, A Songwriter

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This post is the first in a Sunday series I’m starting titled, “Sundays Are For Church.”

It’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Eric Church. I’ve seen him in concert six times, one time even going all the way to London to see him as part of the Country 2 Country (C2C) music festival. I’ve got t-shirts, shot glasses, and posters with his name on them. For the past two Halloweens I’ve dressed up as Erica Church- a character I created who is his female counterpart. She also wears sunglasses indoors, an American flag scarf, and can rock a black leather jacket like nobody’s business. She’s also a BAMF so don’t even think about messing with her!

When people ask me why I love Eric Church so much the first reason I give is that he’s a gifted songwriter. I have immense respect for anyone who writes their own material no matter who they are. With Eric, it’s the depth and creativity of his lyrics that put him in a league of his own, especially nowadays. He’s an expert at crafting songs that make you sit back, shut up, and think. His lyrics are clever and filled with play on words, references to those who came before him, and personal experiences. Eric is one of those artists who sings about real things that have happened to him, making it easy for the listener to connect with his music. His songs are autobiographical- when he sings about an experience, you know he’s lived it.

I think that when people only hear the songs that make it onto the radio they’re quick to dismiss Eric’s songwriting ability. If you’re thinking “Drink In My Hand” when you first hear Eric Church’s name, then you’re not fully aware of his talent as a songwriter (no offense to “Drink In My Hand.”) In order to showcase Eric’s talent as a songwriter, I chose six songs that have never made it onto the radio (deep cuts, if you will) to discuss in detail. For each of these songs, Eric either served as the first writer or as a co-writer.

A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young– In this song, Eric asks his wife, “what the hell made you wanna love a man who was gonna die young?” At the age of 36, he’s surprised that he’s already outlived Hank and Jesus, who died at the ages of 29 and 33, respectively. He’s led a fearless life and he credits his wife for saving him from what should have been an early death, keeping him from going under, “when that current got too heavy.” Eric exhibits a strong sense of self awareness in this song that his wild past has caught up with him physically:

“In the mirror, I saw my surprise,
Who knew gray hairs liked to hide on a head that didn’t think he’d live past thirty,
If I make it thirty more, it’s the brown that you’ll be looking for, as you run your fingers through it and say, “slow down, honey””

It’s Eric’s ability to articulate this realization so well that I admire and why I respect him so much as a songwriter.

This song is from his album The Outsiders, which was released in 2014. For this album, Eric and some songwriting friends went to his cabin in North Carolina and cranked out 121 songs (!). A lot of these songs obviously didn’t make the cut as there are only 12 tracks on this album. I’m not sure which ones didn’t make it but I sure am glad that this one did.

Songwriters: Eric Church/Jeremy Spillman

Can’t Take it With You“- Let me start by saying that this is my all-time favorite Eric Church song. I can’t really put my finger on why. It’s just that every time it comes on, I can’t change the song and it’s pretty much been that way since the first time I heard it. Maybe it’s the guitar riff that pulls me in at the beginning and won’t let me go. Or maybe it’s the song’s relatable message. I guessing it’s probably a combination of the two.

It’s a breakup song, you know, that thing that country music is best known for. In this song, his girlfriend has left him- taking not only furniture but also intangible items as well. This is apparent in the song’s opening line, “never realized how much she brought to the table, ’til I went to sit my cup of coffee where the table used to be.” She also managed to take away opportunities for Eric like giving him a chance to make it all alright. It’s these things that aren’t really things that are the hardest to deal with when a relationship ends. The message here is that when two people split, you take with you more than just the physical items, like the “heirloom antique cradle” but also the memories associated with those items, like one day starting a family. Her leaving left Eric with no choice but to do the same (silver lining: there wasn’t much left for packing.)

“That old house is in the rearview,
Riding shotgun is her ghost,
Who says you can’t take it with you when you go?”

Songwriters: Casey Beathard/Eric Church/Marla Cannon-Goodman

Knives Of New Orleans” – Who knew a song about a man killing a woman and dropping her in the Pontchartrain (that’s a lake right outside of New Orleans for all you non-Louisiana geography buffs) could be so eloquently written? Or is that even what the song is about? What’s great about this song is that what’s really going on is left up to the listener’s interpretation. As Eric discusses here, all three of the songwriters on this song had a different outcome in mind when writing this song.

“Tonight, a bleeding memory
Is tomorrow’s guilty vein
Your auburn hair on a faraway sea wall

Screams across the Pontchartrain” 

It doesn’t matter what you think the guy in this song did, you just know that he’s done something and that he’s now hiding out in New Orleans because of it. He repeats the line, “I did what I did” throughout the song, indicating that he’s dealing with some inner demons because of what he’s done. Images of a woman with auburn hair and hazel eyes are haunting him. Who is she? Well that’s up to you to decide. The fact that Eric allows for the listener to come to their own conclusion about the narrative of this song is a testament to his creativity as a writer.

This song is from his most recent album Mr. Misunderstood, which was released as a surprise on November 3, 2015. I saw that it had been released (via CD in the mail) to a handful of select Church Choir members that morning. Thankfully it was uploaded to iTunes later that night and I downloaded it right away. I didn’t even have to listen to a few songs before deciding to make the purchase, I knew that I wouldn’t regret it and boy was I right!

Songwriters: Eric Church/Jeremy Spillman/Travis Meadows

You Make It Look So Easy“- I’m convinced that someone once told Eric Church to go and write the greatest love song he could think of and he came back with this. Throughout the song he lists all of his negative qualities: he has a hard head, he overreacts, he puts up walls, he’s hard to love and even harder to live with. He’s not really doing a good job of selling himself! Yet his wife still loves him all while making it look easy. It probably doesn’t hurt that she’s got a hard head too because if anyone knows how to deal with a hard headed man it’s a hard headed woman.

“You’re my compass when I’m lost, my anchor when I get tossed,
And the right way when all I can do is wrong” 

With lyrics like these, it’s easy to see why this song made my list. That Mrs. Church sure is a lucky lady!

Songwriter: Eric Church

Dark Side“- The fifth song on this list, and second from The Outsiders album, is “Dark Side.” Eric sings about his dark side, you know the one, hanging out in the corner of your mind, as he describes it. Whether or not we choose to admit it, we all have a dark side- we all think thoughts that we maybe shouldn’t and know that if anyone ever heard these thoughts that they would probably have us committed. It’s for that reason that Eric’s dark side “don’t ever see the light of day.”

The song ends with a warning to anyone who ever tries to mess with his son (he now has two). If you’ve ever seen him perform this song live you know that he introduces this song by talking about his family and how he loves them so much that he would do anything for them, even kill for them. This sentiment comes through in these lyrics:

“All you thugs and ugly mugs, dealing drugs and makin’ noise,
You can kill each other all you want, but if you touch my little boy,
You beggin’ for this bullet, Will be the last thing that you say,
Before I
Let my dark side
Come out to play”

Whew! It sends chills down my spine just typing out that verse. I know one thing’s for sure- I don’t ever wanna see Eric’s dark side!

The end of the song also perfectly bleeds over into the beginning of the next song on the album, “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness),” which also serves as another excellent example of Eric’s ability to write a damn good song.

Songwriters: Eric Church/Travis Meadows/Jeremy Spillman

Over When It’s Over– I had originally planned on just focusing on five songs but I realized that I hadn’t included a single song off of the Chief album on this list. You’re probably familiar with Eric Church’s hit “Springsteen,” which is his most popular song from this album and arguably his most popular song to date. I may be breaking my own rules by including this song because I think I did hear the live version of this song on the radio once though I still don’t think it qualifies as a “hit” so it makes the cut.

If I could switch places with another person for just two minutes and 40 seconds, it would be Joanna Cotten just so I could sing this duet with Eric. Joanna has a set of pipes on her and it’s her powerful voice that really makes this song, in my opinion. The song is about a relationship ending despite how hard they tried to make it work- they had it in the air but they just couldn’t land it. It’s over.

It’s no so much what this song is about that earned it a spot on this list but rather the descriptive language used throughout it to describe the breakup. The split is compared to a “white flag,” “a stop sign,” and “the last long drag on a Marlboro light.” As well as a “blank page when you’re outta words.” And of course there’s the realization that there was no way they could have made it work because there “ain’t no map gonna ever bring us back from where we are.” As Eric sings:

“This ain’t no gone for good drill or no goodbye false alarm” 

It’s plain to see that these two are done.

Songwriters: Luke Robert Laird/Eric Church

 

I hope that I’ve done Eric Church and his songs justice with this post. Picking just six songs to focus on was difficult and even now I’m not so sure if these were the best ones for what I had in mind. This is also not a list of my favorite Eric Church songs either- that list would contain some of his hits like “Kill a Word” and the previously mentioned “Springsteen.”

Stay tuned for more posts in the “Sundays Are For Church” series!

Currently listening to: Eric Church, of course!

Orange Ain’t Brandy Clark’s Color

Season five of ‘Orange is the New Black’ was released today so I thought that “prison” would be an appropriate theme for today’s post. While it’s true that there’s no shortage of songs about prison in country music (they’re a rough bunch, what can I say?), there’s one song in particular that I want to focus on. And in keeping with the OITNB theme, this song is by a female artist. Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, wardens and inmates, I present to you “Stripes” by Brandy Clark.

In her 2013 song “Stripes,” Brandy catches her lover cheating and despite her finger itching to pull the trigger on them, she doesn’t. Why not you ask? Well, it’s because she hates stripes and orange ain’t her color. And if she squeezed that trigger she would’ve been wearin’ one or the other. As she repeats in the song’s chorus, “there’s no crime of passion worth a crime of fashion.” I’m not sure if the ladies of OITNB would agree.

Brandy also says that hard time might not be so bad- she could fall in love with the prison guard to help make her time behind bars a little more bearable. She might want to have a talk with Dayanara about that!

I won’t analyze all of the lyrics as the link to the video is below and you can have a listen for yourself. I do, however, want to use this opportunity to mention that Brandy Clark is a great singer/songwriter and encourage you to check out some of her other music. I got to see in her concert a couple of years ago when she was the opening act for Eric Church and even got to meet her (picture below). You’re probably already familiar with some of her work and you just didn’t know it- she helped write hits like Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” and Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow.”

Oh! And orange ain’t my color either! Seriously, I look just awful in it.

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With Brandy Clark, John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA (October 2014)

 

Currently listening to: Regina Spektor- “You’ve Got Time” (OITNB themesong)

That Time Tracy Byrd Mentioned Arabic in a Country Song

As today marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 War (aka The Six-Day War), I thought it would be fitting to post about a country song that touches on the Middle East.

This post is about a 1995 song from Tracy Byrd titled, “Walking to Jerusalem.” As far as I know, it’s the only country song that references the Arabic language and it was for this reason alone that this song caught my ear. I don’t actually remember this song when it first came out in the mid-90s, instead, I heard this song for the first time just two years ago when I was listening to Pandora radio. When I first heard the lines, “readin’ signs in Arabic, ravin’ like a lunatic” I did a doubletake. Was Tracy Byrd really singing about the Arabic language in a country song? Turns out he was!

The Religion major and Middle Eastern Studies student in me couldn’t forget what I had just heard. I had so many questions: Why was Tracy Byrd walking to Jerusalem? Why were the signs in Arabic (with no mention of signs in Hebrew)? Does Tracy Byrd (and his songwriters) think that everyone in Jerusalem speaks Arabic? I realize that not everyone is an expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict (hell, I’m certainly not) but it was still puzzling to me that there were no signs in Hebrew (or English) alongside the Arabic signs in this song. Though I’m sure this was not done intentionally as a way to downplay the Jewishness of Jerusalem seeing as how this is just a silly country song with no political agenda.

I’m happy to see that the Arab community was given recognition in this song through their language, especially since according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel in 2015, there were 300,200 Palestinians residents in Jerusalem, making up 36.8% of the city’s population. However, I’m gonna take a wild guess here and say that the writers of this song (Sam Hogin and Mark D. Sanders), and even Tracy Byrd himself, did not put this much thought into writing this song. I’m sure Arabic was only mentioned for the simple fact that it rhymes well with lunatic. Had the signs been in Hebrew, the lyrics might’ve been something like “Readin’ signs in Hebrew, Ravin’ like a damn fool!”, which actually has a nice ring to it.

 

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The video for this song (featured at the end of this post) is also worth discussing, primarily because of the sign featured at minute 1:40. At the top of this sign, we see that Jerusalem, Texas is located 503 miles away and Jerusalem (in Arabic) is 6000 miles away. However, it’s not these distances that stood out to me on this sign. What stood out is the fact that “Jerusalem” is written in Arabic, or rather, is transliterated to be pronounced as we would say it in English using the Arabic alphabet as opposed to using the Arabic word for Jerusalem, which is al-Quds (القدس). The sign also fails to include the Hebrew (ירושלים or Yerushalayim), which if Tracy really were walking to Jerusalem in present day (or at least in 1995), this would surely be listed and the signs would look similar to the one featured below. Directions to Turkey are also featured on this sign despite the country not being mentioned in the song. The video also features camels, because it wouldn’t be about the Middle East without camels, right?

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As both of the signs above show, one from the music video and one from present-day Israel/Palestine, English is always listed alongside the Arabic and Hebrew. So why is Tracy reading the Arabic? Maybe this is why he’s also ravin’ like a lunatic? Bless his heart!

A quick Google Maps search also shows that there are no good paths for walking from Texas to Jerusalem. If Tracy has a map that he is planning on using, could he please share it?

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A question that has yet to be answered is why Tracy Byrd is walking to Jerusalem. In this song, a woman is clearly playing hard to get with Tracy. With lines like, “till you came walkin’ in with your high falutin’ friends, so busy lookin’ down your noses, now here you are ignorin’ me” it’s plain to see that she’s stringing him along. Tracy also mentions studying the book of Job (“I can see me in a long robe, Studyin’ the book of Job”), a sure sign that this woman is testing his patience much like God tested Job’s in the Hebrew Bible. Now that we understand what is happening in the song, Tracy’s line “by the time you tell me I’m the one, I’ll be stickin’ out my thumb, and walkin’ to Jerusalem” begins to make a little more sense. Looking at Christian eschatology, we see that in the Christian apocalyptic narrative, the city of Jerusalem plays an important role. (Please note that I am only focusing on End Times beliefs in Christianity here since this is in reference to country music and this seemed the most appropriate. I won’t even begin to get into Evangelical beliefs, dispensationalism, Christian Zionism, etc. on this topic.) Jerusalem is the location where Jesus’ second coming will take place, which will usher in the Day of Judgment. Turning our attention back to the song, it’s plain to see that this woman has made poor Tracy wait so long for some attention that he is now walking to Jerusalem as the end of the world has finally come. (This might be a bit of a stretch but I’m going with it!)

Please find the video for this song below. If after watching you have different theories on what is going on in this song, please feel free to share them with me!

 

All this talk about Arabic and Jerusalem has got me wondering- is Tracy Byrd for a one-state or two-state solution? (Tracy Byrd was not contacted for an answer).

Note: Please note that the purpose of this post was to have fun, not to be political or religious in any way. When I heard a country song talking about Arabic and Jerusalem, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore this further. I’m also a big fan of Tracy Byrd, so I would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to check out some of his other music (might I suggest “The Keeper of the Stars” for starters). Also, if you guys do know of any other country songs that mention Arabic, please send them my way!

Currently listening to: Arabic Music (while simultaneously ravin’ like a lunatic)

How 90s Country Made Me the Woman I am Today

For my first real post on the blog, I wanted to go back to where it all began- the 1990s! I was born in 1990 so 90s country was the soundtrack to the first decade of my life. And growing up in Orange, Virginia, it was the soundtrack to most people around me and their lives too. It wasn’t until I got older and moved away that I realized not everyone had friends in low places, did the Watermelon Crawl, and thought John Deere Green was an acceptable paint color for declaring one’s love on a water tower.

For me, the best part about 90s country were the strong female voices that reigned supreme in this decade. I’m talking Shania, Faith, Reba, Deana, Martina, Trisha, the Dixie Chicks, and many others that I won’t mention for the sake of space. When these women sang, you shut up and paid attention to what they had to say. Shania let us know that any man of ours better walk the line, the Dixie Chicks encouraged us to find wide open spaces, and Reba taught us that there’s life out there beyond our family and our home. As a precocious and head-strong little girl, I looked up to these women and their songs of female empowerment. One of my main gripes with contemporary country is the lack of female voices and it’s one of the topics I hope to explore further with this blog. I owe partial credit (the other part to my mom) to these women for making me the woman I am today. These women taught me about love and never settling for less than you deserve. Deana Carter painted a picture of how sweet first love should be with “Strawberry Wine” and Faith Hill’s line, “I’d trade a million pretty words for one touch that is real” taught me about what’s important in a relationship (from her song, “Take Me As I Am.”) And in case I ever found myself with a man who wasn’t treating me right, Lorrie Morgan gave me the courage to say, “If you think I won’t go, watch me!” The songs that these women sang were anthems for an eight-year-old girl going on eighteen.

To this day, many of these songs still bring to mind a specific memory. Whenever I hear Shania Twain’s “Don’t Be Stupid” I think back to my cousin and I singing this song in our church’s variety show (they were always sure to point out that it wasn’t a talent show because nobody had any talent. Also, why did our parents think this was an acceptable song to sing at church? One of the lines is “when I talk to other guys you think they’re on my tail”? But, I digress.) Another Shania-inspired memory also comes to mind when I think back on my childhood. I can remember asking my dad what PMS was after hearing the line, “this could be worse than PMS” from Shania’s song “Honey, I’m Home.” I think his response was something like, “it’s something that women get” and he probably told me to ask my mom. Gee, thanks! I also remember getting Faith Hill’s album Take Me as I Am on cassette tape in my advent calendar one Christmas and how excited I was to pop this into the stereo and press play. When I hear these songs today, I’m transported back to my childhood- a young girl singing songs with lyrics meant for grown women, not realizing the lessons they were teaching me at the time and how important these messages would be in my own development.

Nineties country also music taught me that sometimes life sucks but that’s no excuse to not get out there and have some fun from time to time. Even when dealing with a broken heart, David Lee Murphy went looking for a “Party Crowd.” Although, on the other hand, Bubba grabbed a .45 and shot the jukebox just from hearing a sad song that made him cry, which brings me to my next point- 90s country had a sense of humor. Just look at Sammy Kershaw’s “Vidalia”- a song about a girl who shares her name with an onion, which seems to be quite fitting as she’s always making Sammy cry. Nineties country taught me humility and that it’s okay (if not absolutely necessary) to laugh at yourself every once in a while.

The 1990s was also a time when Toby Keith sang songs like “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and “How Do You Like Me Now?” You know, before he started singing about putting boots in people’s a**es.

The holidays also have a special place in my memory because of country music. Each Christmas, the album I most look forward to hearing is Alan Jackson’s Honky Tonk Christmas, which was released in 1993. I don’t think there’s been a single December since I was a child when this album wasn’t played. As soon as the holiday season began, my mom would pop this tape into her car and Alan Jackson would sing us through to the New Year. The songs on this album bring out the emotions that we’ve all felt around the holidays at some point in our lives- cheer, loneliness, and financial hardship. My cousin and I always requested that my mom play “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)”, the last song on this album, finding the title and content to be hilarious. Little did we know that for my mom this song served as a painful reminder of the Christmases that she grew up with as a child surrounded by people with alcohol addiction. As an adult, I understand why she did not find the song as funny as my cousin and I did. But don’t let this fool you- this album also features some more happy songs to bring you your yuletide cheer, including a Duet with Alvin and the Chipmunks about Santa coming in a pickup truck. My family has since upgraded from the cassette tape to the CD version of this album ensuring that we have a “Honky Tonk Christmas” year after year.

Country music, especially 90s country, helped raise me and taught me some great life lessons along the way. Lessons like, “Life’s a dance you learn as you go– sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow” and “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” It was the decade that gave us Tracy Lawrence, Lee Ann Womack, Travis Tritt, Tim McGraw, Jo Dee Messina, Mindy McCready, and Collin Raye. These artists and their songs shaped my life. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without country music and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Had I been raised on another genre of music, would I still be the same person? I’m not so sure.

Currently listening to: Sammy Kershaw- “Queen Of My Double Wide Trailer

Welcome, y’all!

Welcome to my blog dedicated to country music- both new and old! With all of the bro country (or tractor rap or hillbilly hip hop, whatever you wanna call it) on the radio these days, I wanted to create a space to talk about some of the country music that either isn’t getting played on the radio or has been long forgotten. Seriously, when’s the last time you heard Cash, Hank, Willie, Merle, or my personal favorite, Waylon, on the radio? Admittedly, I am not an expert on country music or blogging nor am I a professional writer of any sort, which should be obvious. But what I am is a diehard country music fan, looking to share my thoughts with anyone who’s willing to read them, and hopefully explore some good country music along the way.

What this Blog Is (And What It Ain’t)

This blog is first and foremost a place for me to share my thoughts on country music- be it old classics that I am rediscovering or just now discovering for the first time, reminiscing on the songs that I grew up with (shout out to 90s country), or shedding light on new artists that could use a little attention. Country music is the soundtrack to my life- I’ve rarely had a life event or an emotion that didn’t have a corresponding country song to perfectly articulate what I was going through. In this blog, I will discuss some of those experiences.

What I won’t be doing in this blog is focusing on the personal lives of country artists- this isn’t a gossip column. Instead, this blog is dedicated to the music. I’m sure you’re thinking that today’s chart toppers won’t be mentioned but don’t worry, I’ll still write about the contemporary guys and gals from time to time.

In Defense of Country Music  

I also wanted to write this blog in defense of country music. If I had a nickel for every time someone said “I like every type of music….except for country” I might actually be able to afford a house in D.C.  I think that a lot of people are turned off of country music because they think it’s just a crying guitar and some sad guy singing about his pickup truck, his dog dying, and how his woman has done run off and left him. But for me, country music is so much more. It’s the well-crafted, fine-tuned, perfectly strung together lyrics and melodies from my favorite artists. It’s Conway and Loretta’s playful banter in their duets, it’s Waylon and Willie warning mothers about the outlaw way of life knowing all too well how dangerous it can be, it’s telling your boss to “take this job and shove it,” and it’s Dolly’s appreciation for a coat that her momma sewed just for her. And yes, sometimes country music is about tough subjects like love and loss, which only makes sense, because who hasn’t turned to music to help mend a broken heart or to find healing during hard times?

Behind the Name

As you can guess from the name, I live in the Washington Metropolitan area. I wanted a name that not only gives people a sense of what I am writing about but also where I am writing from. I racked my brain over what to call this thing-  Dixie in the District, Country in the Capital (which is my tagline for now), Dixie Chicken (emphasizing the shared D.C. abbreviation), and District of Country. I settled on Beltway Boots for a couple of reasons- alliteration being one and it ticked off the boxes of showing both geographical location and theme. I also just thought it sounded good!

I hope you all enjoy this blog and please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, etc. All I ask is that you be respectful- remember, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!

Spoiler Alert: I’m a proud member of the (Eric) Church Choir so he is gonna get talked about A LOT! You’ve been warned.

Currently listening to: Loretta Lynn- “You’re Lookin’ At Country