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‘The Outsiders’ Eric Church

Eric Church is developing two separate and distinct personalities that seem to wrestle each other in a glorious battle royal on his fourth and best album, “The Outsiders.”

There’s that guy Chief, with the hat and sunglasses and the love of rock ‘n’ roll, whiskey, stubborn streaks and fistfights. And then there’s the version of Church who wins (or loses) the girl, stirs moments of universal reverie and tickles the funny bone with program director-wooing hits that appeal to country music’s bedrock fan base.

Both these guys are at their best on “The Outsiders,” one-upping each other with songs that embrace the breadth and history of country music while ignoring those conventions to explore far afield. Managing this trick requires a delicate touch, and Church and producer Jay Joyce push the limits while maintaining a balance that leaves a little something for everyone.

Don’t like the heavy rock riffs and leather jacket-clad message of the Black Sabbath-leaning title song? Well, there’s the tear-jerker ballad “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young.”

“The Outsiders” is the rare album that invites debate, and asks us to take sides. In this case, pick freely. You can’t lose.

– Chris Talbott,

Associated Press

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