Eric Church and Lzzy Hale: Artistic Appreciation


I love Eric Church. I got into him after I heard his epic 8-minute rant about Nashville.

Clearly he’s a huge star. But I love the performance below especially because of that thing that Mitchell and I talk about so much: artistic appreciation. When an artist looks at another artist and acknowledges that what they bring to the table is beautiful, unique, appreciated. You can see it when Judy Garland had the teenage Barbra Streisand on her show to sing a series of duets. It was Judy Garland explicitly passing a torch. And DURING those duets, Barbra will do certain things with her voice, flourishes, or a huge soaring belt, and you can SEE Judy go, “My God, this girl. This GIRL.” These moments are extremely moving to Mitchell and I and we hoard them like jewels.

In the clip below, Church performs his song “That’s Damn Rock ‘n’ Roll.” and brings Lzzy Hale onstage with him, to duet with him, on guitar and vocals. His recorded version is great, and yet another “statement of intentions” from him, similar to his Nashville rant where he compares Nashville to a “devil” and a “whore”. He connects himself and the kind of music he loves to country/rock’s earliest days, or at least sweeps away what he sees as the corporatization of contemporary country. In the song, he reiterates the anti-establishment mindset from whence it all came. None of this “butterfly kisses” goody-goody shit. (His attitude is reminiscent of Waylon’s great song “Are you Sure Old Hank Done It This Way?” – a similar critique of what the hell happened to country music, when did it become so safe? Waylon HAD to label himself an “outlaw” just to get free of all the bullshit.) Church’s stuff has a harder more metal-ish grind than a lot of contemporary country songs (he loves Metallica, AC/DC, etc.) He doesn’t pretend to be an aw-shucks country boy, one of the “personae” that Nashville still loves. He loves his home state (North Carolina) and there’s plenty of nostalgia for a simple life and for kicking back watching football, etc., but that’s certainly not just a country thing. He’s the kind of country boy who gets in bar fights, is a hound-dog, who battles personal demons of addiction and rage (he’s open about all of those things in his songs). I mean, he’s all settled down now, married, with two sons (one is named Boone McCoy and the other one is named Tennessee Hawkins. I mean, come on. Those names are COUNTRY.) But this guy has been to the shit and back. He’s also an open pothead. He’s got a tough TRUCKER’S vibe, as opposed to a “goin’ fishin’ after church” vibe (I’m being mean to contemporary country: I know there’s a lot of other great stuff happening), and all that Utopia nonsense so common in bad country music. “That’s Damn Rock ‘n’ Roll” brings up the whole history of music, its demons, mourning Hendrix and Joplin, looking back on what it came out of: REBELLION – and re-stating what rock ‘n’ roll really is, and it’s sure as hell not something created by a corporation via T-shirts. It’s a “hip-shaking devil on a stage in Tupelo.” (Church references Elvis all the time.)

In this performance on a gigantic stage, he has Lzzy Hale join him onstage. She’s not a “name.” It’s not like he has Miranda Lambert join him, or one of the other giant-esses of country music.

And Lzzy Hale takes OVER. She makes Eric Church look like a backup singer. And he LOVES it. She obliterates the original, making you realize that THIS is how the song should sound. (Similar to some of Ray Charles’ or Nina Simone’s covers.)

But what I love here most of all is HIM. Watch him. Because he knows that what she’s doing is how the song sounds in his head, and he was smart enough to bring her on to pump it up a notch. She makes him work harder (and Eric Church already works hard). But watch how she winds him up, purely on the force of what she is doing. He doesn’t make the mistake of trying to compete. He’s just trying to keep up. And in the meantime: he gives the song to her, HIS song. Throughout the performance, his whole focus is on her. You can see him watching her the whole time, blown away by what she is doing.

There are moments, I imagine, when even huge stars have the realization that “Holy shit, people know the lyrics that I wrote in my bedroom, and what the hell, remember when I had jack-squat in life, and now … wait, what?? this is SO COOL …”

That’s what Eric Church looks like. “THIS IS SO COOL. THIS IS THE COOLEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ME.” He can’t BELIEVE what she is doing, and he bows to her at the end, a heartfelt gesture saying “thank you I am not worthy thank you for loving this song and doing what you just did.”

Side note: I’m not ashamed to admit I “ship” these two. Because why wouldn’t I. Look at them together.

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5 Responses to Eric Church and Lzzy Hale: Artistic Appreciation

  1. Barb says:

    Wow. I got the chills, watching that. Clearly, I have some catching up to do!

    • sheila says:

      I know, it gives me the chills too.

      Eric Church only has 5 albums out – I got on the Church train recently, so I’m still familiarizing myself with some of his early stuff. There’s that heavy electric guitar he uses – different than a lot of country music sounds – which I think is really pleasing, and part of why he gets so much press from, say, Rolling Stone – who routinely puts him on Best Album/Artist of the year lists.

      I love him a lot – but I love him even more for his whole vibe during this performance. Always always aware of her, and psyched at how awesome she is.

  2. mutecypher says:

    Great performance. I’d been a fan of Halestorm for a while, without knowing the names of anyone in the band. Kinda funny to search for Izzy and find out that I already had some of her music. The two of them just kill it.

  3. Dan says:

    I started following Church after seeing him discuss Johnny Cash in the documentary American Rebel. I was intrigued by seeing the deference he had for Cash and the knowledge he shared. Sure enough, he makes many allusions to country music history in his own material.

    The stuff he does these days is much better than much of his earlier work, in my opinion. Every country musician seems to have to sing a lot about cowboy boots in the beginning. It’s almost like they’re paying dues. I like country music, but I tend to tune out anytime I start to hear about how great cowboys boots are. And a cowboy is good in a fight because they know how to handle themselves. And they’re loyal. And America’s really great. And they treat women well. And no one loves you like a woman from Louisiana. And look at my cowboy hat. I’m glad Church got out of that rut!

    • sheila says:

      // It’s almost like they’re paying dues. //

      I agree! They kind of have to “go there”, to show their bonafides. Nashville is so so conservative that way. “And look at my cowboy hat.” hahahahaha

      I know – it’s so interesting: Like the early days of rockabilly, country music is very much into the “trappings” – the objects that signify – like a marker: “Here is who we are.” Sometimes it almost sounds like a marketing campaign. Like Carl Perkins’ songs about blue suede shoes, and cat glasses and pedal pushers – “Here’s what we look like! Here’s what we wear!” Country music, too, has the barbecues and the cut-off shorts and the cooler of beer and the fishing hole – and come on, y’all have Home Depot down the street just like everybody else, get over yourselves.

      I love how often Eric Church references the giants of the past – also basically updating Waylon Jennings’ great “Are you Sure Hank Done It This Way?” with “Lotta Boot to Fill” (oh God, cowboy boots again). But Church is PISSED – any time he thinks of Waylon Jennings or Johnny Cash, it ignites something in him about what is going on in contemporary country. Would Waylon have a chance today? What would current-day Nashville do with Johnny Cash?

      I love “Country Music Jesus” too.

      Thanks for the comment!

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