Bold move, Mr. Church.
But how does it pay off?
That being said, I like Mr. Misunderstood even better. It’s much closer in sound to his first two albums, much closer to a country sound throughout.
The album starts off with the title track, which in its own way is thematically similar to “The Outsiders” (the song) about forging one’s own path and being an individual rather than blending in with the crowd. Like much of the album, it’s a stripped back performance. The song is sung both from the perspective of, and to, a musical outsider – one who found more inspiration in old-time sounds and independent music than Top 40 radio.
“Mistress Named Music” continues with the theme of music being a part of one’s soul and life. The song is a slow burner building up an emotional story of being “married to a dream with a mistress named music.”
Aesthetically, “Chattanooga Lucy” is the outlier on the album. It’s not out of place, but it does have a different feel than the rest of the album does sonically. It’s a track that takes some getting used to: it has a country-blues type feel to it.
“Mixed Drinks About Feelings” (which features guest vocalist Susan Tedeschi) is a diamond in the rough on the album. It starts out with a very soft piano intro. It’s an old-school drinking song – a slow country burner about drinking to forget about the loss of a love. The duet makes the song even more powerful; I’ve always loved songs like this – songs where two people want to say something to each other but can’t work up the nerve. Travis Tritt did a great solo version with “Foolish Pride.” Reba and Brooks & Dunn did their own version of this tale with “If You See Him/If You See Her.” Anita Cochran and Steve Wariner had a great duet “What If I Said?” These types of songs, when done well, can wreak emotional havoc. Church and Tedeschi do it very well here.
“Knives of New Orleans” is a really cool murder ballad as a wanted man longs for one last night with a lover as he makes his getaway. But the song also reveals that that lover is the one that he has murdered.
“Round Here Buzz” shares some thematic similarities with “Give Me Back My Hometown,” however, it seems to take an exact opposite approach. Whereas “Hometown” saw a man seeing memories in every place in his hometown, “Round Here Buzz” finds a man taking solace in the familiarity of home – “catching a round here buzz cause [she] ain’t around here none.” This reads a lot more clichéd than it actually comes across when the song plays.
“Kill a Word” plays on the old adage that “sticks and stones may break bones but words will never hurt.” In the song the narrator wishes for the power to kill certain words: “never,” “regret,” “goodbye,” “over,” etc., while pleading that he’d rather be hurt physically than the emotional pain that words can inflict.
“Holdin’ My Own” feels a bit generic after a string of such good songs. There’s some really cool instrumentation going on in the song, but the lyrics don’t pack much of a punch. It’s not a bad song, but it’s definitely the least inspired song of the collection.
“Record Year” finds a narrator using music to dull the pain of a lover leaving, playing old records, and noting that since she left he’s been “having a record year.”
The album’s closer is “Three Year Old,” where Church sings about lessons he learned from his three year old son. The most important of these lessons, as is repeated in the chorus, is “if you’re wrong you should just say so.”
This is a much more subdued album than The Outsiders. If you’ve been a fan of Church, even if you were disappointed in his last album, this album may bring you back among his fans. It’s a well-put together album and props to Church for dropping it without a word of preparation.