Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Eric Church's Front Porch Breakbeats: Nashville at Last Fully Integrates Hip Hop

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 12:30 PM

click to enlarge "Dig my beats, but pull your pants up."
  • "Dig my beats, but pull your pants up."

Eric Church is the first country star to fully incorporate hip hop into country hits. He's not the first to incorporate it, of course. "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk," "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy," and "Stuck Like Glue" -- that glitterbomb Sugarland single with the Carribean patois breakdown -- all dip into hip hop beats.

But they're self-conscious, like kids trying on outlandish Halloween costumers: the audacity is part of the joke. Church, though, doesn't just download a beat and hope for pop crossover. His songs seem to rise up from their breakbeats, as surely as they might rise from their riffs.

This is a sea-change for Nashville: Looped, loud, and complex drum patterns are no longer a novelty. They are instead a widely accepted element of that great sonic storehouse that this conservative genre depends upon: Sounds That Most American White People Are Cool With.

His single "Smoke a Little Smoke" opens with traditional snaky country-rock warm-up riffs, the kind Jerry Reed might play over footage of some good 'ol boy ambling into the meanest pool hall in Asskick County. But these riffs are diced up, chopped into near abstractions, sequenced over a sturdy kick drum rock stomp that, after a verse, flowers into full-on breakbeat.

A simple breakbeat, more G. Love than Ghostface, but still full-on: all kick and snare, part clap-along arena rock and part "Funky Drummer." It's a live-in-the-studio loop that fuels Church's offhand verses as surely as the dusty riffs and plodding bass did "Waymore's Blues" and other ninety-proof Waylon Jennings tracks. (If you haven't heard "Waymore's Blues," please please please play this next clip.)

Like "Waymore's Blues," "Smoke a Little Smoke" is conservative outlaw doggerel, an ode to both country values and to rock bad boyism. It's pro-pot, anti-Obama, dumb as hell, and all kinds of great. But both songs are about something far more important than those words: The band performance, the way the singer locks into a rhythm section that's really feeling it, something you almost never hear in modern country, where studio hands play as polite as Broadway pit bands.

Like much rock and hip hop, what matters most in both is that beat itself.

Chruch's recent album Chief, which follows "Smoke a Little Smoke," takes this further. Its best tracks are based on the same kind of skittering beats, a rhythmic trick that fits Church's tunes as well as Waylon's old one-two thump fit his.

Key track "Jack Daniels" is another Nashville rarity: A propulsive front-porch drinkin' song that's four-square traditional yet also rhythmically innovative, one that advances the genre rather than just mines it.

Less conventional is "I'm Getting Stoned," which sounds like a country hit remixed by big fans of Soul Coughing.

Chief stands as one of 2011's best records, in its genre or out of it. Church's singing is a bit pinched, and he can't summon up the deep feeling of the best of his genre. But the songs - like Church himself - have wit and a brawling charisma, especially "Drink in My Hand," the best Nashville Stones rip since Jamey Johnson's "Playing the Part," "Creepin,"a balls-and-banjos rocker distinguished by some sequencer horseplay, and "Springsteen," a tribute to Bruce's hayday that -- like all such from Music Row -- labors to avoid Bruce's politics.

I'm less taken with the two goofball but not-bad Jesus numbers, "Country Music Jesus" and "Like Jesus Does," mostly because I can't work out what the hell they're supposed to mean. "She loves me like Jesus does," he sings, which is sweet and all, but should you really base your romantic relationships on the example of a fellow who died a virgin?

And his recent hit "Homeboy," a surprising and emotional bit of hard-times moralizing, is cheapened by some coded language suggesting that white folks should honor white ways of behaving.

Dressing down a small-town criminal, Church singles out a "hip hop hat" and jeans that hang too low -- a disheartening complaint from a guy who relies on breakbeats. That song is the least hip hop on the record: Instead, it swells up into strings-and-guitar-solos Britpop a la the Verve.

It's also more musically satisfying than anything rock radio has come up with in forever. Better still, it's testament to the impressive size of that ever-growing category: Sounds That Most American White People Are Cool With.

----

Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Alan Scherstuhl @StudiesinCrap, and like us at Facebook.com/SFAllShookDown.

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , ,

About The Author

Alan Scherstuhl

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook

Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.