Album Review: Eric Church’s ‘Desperate Man’

Country star Church is an analog kind of guy, but he doesn’t start his album off with the sound of faux crackling vinyl, as a number of performers before him have for old time’s sake. It’s tape hiss you hear at the beginning of “The Snake,” the leadoff track on “Desperate Man.” Presumably we hear this background sound (which goes away for the rest of the record) is there because that raw, acoustic blues original was recorded on old-school equipment and not just for affectation’s sake. But in purely symbolic terms, it’s appropriate for the era(s) Church is evoking for his sixth studio collection: The entirety of “Desperate Man” makes for an agreeable 1970s mix tape.

On some tracks, Church offers a meaty, minimalistic, funky version of the blues-rock he grew up on; leaning into his full road band on the spirited second number, “Hangin’ Around,” he even throws in what sounds like a clavinet (although the exact types of keyboards used on the album go uncredited). Later on, he turns the Radio Shack receiver volume knob down to get into a good amount of finger-picky country-folk. In the early stretch of his career, some of us had a hard time not being suspicious that he was planning to devote his career to cultivating a 1970s-style country outlaw persona. So it’s been a happy development to see him let other influences creep more into his music. He doesn’t just want to be Waylon Jennings, after all; he wants to be a combination of the James Gang and Don McLean, too.

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