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Room for ‘Sinners Like Me’ with this Church

Singer covers traditional country topics — beer, Jesus, lost love — on album
/ Source: The Associated Press

It takes Eric Church just 3 minutes and 18 seconds in his song "Before She Does" to mention beer, a barstool, apple pie, Mama, Jesus and a lost love.

Any doubt this is country music?

"I sing about real life," said the 29-year-old.

Church wrote or co-wrote all 12 songs on his gloves-off debut album "Sinners Like Me." And while he tackles the traditional red-meat themes of country music, his smart, vivid lyrics have attracted plenty of attention inside Nashville — and out.

The first single from the album, "How 'Bout You," an anthem to blue-collar living, patriotism and honesty, climbed the country charts steadily, and the album, released in July, debuted at No. 7 on Billboard's country albums chart.

Elsewhere on the album, he addresses whiskey, prison, Merle Haggard, high school football, cowboy boots and a demolished Mustang.

"I try to write about me and the people I know," Church said recently before leaving on a tour of the Northeast. "You narrow it down, keep it simple."

"Sinners Like Me" is not just about booze and beer and country music culture. Church is engaging as he sings about self-awareness and personal redemption and marvels at his own worthiness.

But there are no country weepers.

"I don't like love songs," Church admitted as he fingered a baseball bat while relaxing on a huge, cream-colored sofa at the home of his manager. "There's no way they can be fresh; people have been writing them for years."

The second single will be "Two Pink Lines," a provocative number about a young couple awaiting results of a pregnancy test: "One means none and we're home free / Two means three and a diamond ring." Some of his most compelling songwriting is on "Before She Does," where he's realistic about a wayward lover: "I believe that Jesus is comin' back / Before she does."

The son of a furniture company executive and a kindergarten teacher, Church grew up in Granite Falls, N.C., and got his degree in marketing from Appalachian State University. His music and background have inspired comparisons with Garth Brooks, who has a degree in advertising and recorded for the same label, Capitol.

Brooks, country music's sales champion, also wrote or co-wrote many of his hits, including "If Tomorrow Never Comes" and "That Summer." Church has a leg up: Not everything on Brooks' first album was written by him or with a co-writer.

But Church isn't interested in being the next Brooks.

"I'll take his record sales," Church said, pressed about the comparison. "But I can't say I owned every Garth record."

Church has been in Nashville since 2001, and landed a job in 2002 writing songs for Sony Tree, including "The World Needs a Drink," recorded by Terri Clark. His songwriting talents led to his record deal.

Since then, he's shared the bill with Hank Williams Jr., Lynyrd Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels, and worn out one tour bus.

Undoubtedly, these are heady times for Church — and he's aware of what potentially lies in the horizon: "You can look back on your life and say, 'This was my window.' Everybody has that opportunity at one time or another; right now is my window."