Music reviews for Feb. 13, 2014

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Gazette wire services
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Eric Church, “The Outsiders”

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.”

Tired of the paint-by-numbers party songs that flood radio? His answer is “Cold One,” which offers a twist on a tired theme. Need a couples song for you and your new country gal? Try “Talladega,” which somehow turns auto racing into an epic love poem.

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

—Chris Talbott, Associated Press

Ben Flocks, “Battle Mountain”

Though based in Brooklyn, 24-year-old saxophonist Ben Flocks sounds miles removed from the bustle of the city on his self-released debut. The California-born Flocks performed with Joshua Redman and Dave Brubeck while coming up in the Bay Area scene, and here he looks to Americana and blues for a soulful album inspired by his home state.

Bookending the record with a steadily burning pace, the album’s title track is its most irresistible. Atop a thick, head-bobbing groove, Flocks glides between Ari Chersky’s guitar and Sam Reider’s starlit Fender Rhodes. Chersky’s ringing tone recalls the big sky sound of Bill Frisell, whose influence also can be heard in a dusky take on the folk classic “Shenandoah” and Leadbelly’s “Silver City Bound.”

—Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times

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