Taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

Eric Church — Carolina

There’s a time-tested song formula in pop-country than begins with a cool, collected everyman laying down the troubles of the day and how they’ve led him into any number of self-destructive habits. Then, in a sudden turn from feelgood country soul to boisterous arena rock, a chorus expresses the insensibility for the singer’s condition and how good tunes, a fishing rod and a stiff drink are the instant panacea. Eric Church ( isn’t afraid to travel this road once again with his sophomore release Carolina, despite his insistence that he’s above it. And why not? Sinners Like Me didn’t bring him the country stardom he sought, so Church ramps up the big guitars and utilitarian country platitudes on opener “Ain’t Killed Me Yet” and “Young and Wild.” But for a guy who’s yet to score a hit, it’s “Lotta Boots to Fill” that comes across as truly bombastic. Like the country equivalent of a hip-hop diss track, Church tears down the empty pretty-boy culture on CMT, with direct jabs at Jason Aldean’s name-checking of Johnny Cash. But for a guy in danger of ending up in the bargain bin himself, it’s a petty and poorly timed riff. Church is at his best when he scales back the in-yourface pandering to the Joe the Plumbers of the world. “Smoke a Little Smoke” reveals Church’s stoner roots with a pretty compelling instrumental track, while the title track “Carolina” is a touching, minimalistic account of his home state with a bassline that sounds pulled straight from U2’s “One.” It would be a better album without the blatant pandering to the cowboy bourgeois and the self-righteous assertion otherwise, but unfortunately Carolina just crumbles under the weight of its own stab at success.

Outformation — Fastburn

More often than not, bands reserve their throwaway material for the occasional free digital album, though there are a few notable exceptions in the case of those bands just looking to exasperate their label. Add Widespread Panic buddies Outformation (www. to that list, as former Michael Houser guitar tech Sam Holt has obviously picked up a thing or two while working for the psychedelic Southern rock kings. The album Fastburn is their fourth release overall and though it’s not exactly poles apart from their previous work, fans of Panic will certainly be pleased with it. Recorded at Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium Studios in Kernersville, the free download features seven new tracks, though the physical release features an additional cover of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country.” There’s plenty of spirited, crisp guitar work by Holt and Benji Shanks that hovers around all variations of the blues-rock stratum, from the boogie-lite of “Eleventeen” to the hard-nosed rocker “One More Time.” Holt’s optimistic vocals are frosted with just enough reverb to make his otherwise workmanlike voice almost Jim James-like on “Faded Memory.” Don’t go digging into Fastburn looking for another layer of ingenuity, however, or you’ll be burned. But take it at face value and it’s a breezy, though somewhat disposable, Southern-fried rocker to fill those empty spaces. Outformation will be playing at the Blind Tiger on Friday night.

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