Eric Church – “Hell On The Heart”

Karlie Justus Marlowe | October 1st, 2009

eric-church-hell-on-the-heartSongwriters: Eric Church, Deric Ruttan and Jeremy Spillman.

Once you get through the tongue-twisting opening lines of Eric Church’s latest single “Hell On The Heart,” the rest of the song can be boiled down to a string of romantic clichés pulled straight from its lyrics.

You see, there’s this girl who is “as pretty as a picture,” but watch out, mister, “I can read your face like a book.” She might “bring the sunshine” and “do all the wrong things right,” but as soon as you start to “feel that rush” she’ll just end up “messing with your head.”

And to that long, tired list, I’ll add two more clichés of my own: This tune is catchy as hell, and I can’t get it out of my head.

Church, whose outlaw-lite performances on sophomore effort Carolina have drawn comparisons to a rocking Waylon Jennings, continues to err on the lyrically lazy side of caution. He also, however, has a knack for composing a hook that can make even the most inane song (here’s looking at you, “Two Pink Lines”) stick with listeners after its three minutes expire.

He continues that trend, to a more satisfying effect, on “Hell On The Heart” : ”She’s as pretty as a picture/Every bit as funny as she is smart/Got a smile that’ll hold you together/And a touch that’ll tear you apart.” On paper, it’s simple at best, but Church’s performance elevates the song into an enjoyable exercise in feel-good fluff.

That capable delivery sits on top of a driving rhythm that effectively connects with the song’s unusual point of view. Similar to Terri Clark’s “Hard On The Heart” in both title and theme, the singer is having a dude to dude talk about the dangerous charms of a beautiful girl, but it’s unclear if he is her friend, a regretful ex-lover or if the song is just an elaborate ruse to scare off a potential new love interest from taking his girl.

The only thing more disappointing than the tune’s lyrics, however, is its production. Jay Joyce, who also worked with Church on his debut album Sinners Like Me, puts together an awkward assortment of sounds to produce an odd combination of sixties rock and roll and distracting banjo and guitar phrases.

Among fellow young male singers such as Dierks Bentley and Jason Aldean, Church has yet to become memorable enough to stand out in a crowd that decisively falls into beer drinkin’ party boys and hard workin’ country boys. “Hell On The Heart,” on the heels of his hit “Love Your Love The Most,” should lift Church out from under the radar and into a more permanent place in that mainstream country landscape.

And for once, that actually sounds like a good thing.

Thumbs Up

  1. Stephen H.
    October 1, 2009 at 9:06 am

    Adding to the strange production, there seems like there’s something digitally weird going on with his voice on this song …

  2. Drew
    October 1, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Not bad, I was really hoping for “Where She Told Me To Go” though, which is still one of my favorite songs of 2009. Either way, I’m happy to see Church reaching mainstream success with a top 10 under his belt now… he deserves it.

  3. Noeller
    October 1, 2009 at 11:33 am

    “Carolina” is still in my Top 3-5 discs purchased in 2009, and was a fantastic follow up to Sinners Like Me. What I loved most about the disc was that it took me several listens before I fully absorbed it. Upon first spin, I was left with a “What the hell just happened??” vibe, and with each progressive rotation, i loved it more and more.

    As for Hell On The Heart, it’s another hook up with Bracebridge, Ontario’s Deric Ruttan, who is a big star up here north of the 49th, and has done a lot of great stuff with Church, Dierks and the Beavers boys.

    This song certainly isn’t the deepest lyrically, but in a sea of commercial club hits, this song is at least a a predator amongst preyfish like “She’s Country” and “Sideways”.

    The “Eric Church Is Waylon” comparisons are apt, and the sooner Country radio realizes this (hey – I’m tryin’ my best up here!) the better for all involved.

  4. Rick
    October 1, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Noeller said: “The “Eric Church Is Waylon” comparisons are apt, and the sooner Country radio realizes this (hey – I’m tryin’ my best up here!) the better for all involved.”

    Noeller, sounding like Waylon doesn’t get you anywhere on US country radio these days as evidenced by Jamey Johnson’s radio singles after “In Color”. The fact Justin Moore just hit # 1 shows you where the Yankee Top 40 scene is these days, and Waylon’s sound is not even in the ballpark…

  5. Noeller
    October 1, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    I hear you Rick!! It really is a sad state of affairs. I’m not entirely sure who to blame at this point – the listeners for being that unintelligent? The Consultants paid by the radio companies to tell them what the listeners want to hear?? The record labels for marketing to teens and young girls??

    Not everything on radio is pure hell, but there’s enough that is. You guys think Gloriana is crap?? You should hear this new husband and wife duo “The Wilsons” and their song “Stick Together”. It’s like something the Partridge Family would’ve away. CMT Canada even has a friggin’ “Jon and Kate Plus 8″-style reality show about them and their kids to accompany the album!!


  6. Brady Vercher
    October 1, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I’m curious as to what y’all think makes the Waylon comparisons apt.

  7. Paul Allen
    October 1, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Carolina is in my top five albums of ’09 without a doubt. The song “Carolina” is fantastic along with “Those I’ve Loved” and “Longer Gone”. Wild card on the album is “Lotta Boot Left to Fill”. I wonder what, if there is one, the next single will be off the album.

  8. Rick
    October 1, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Brady, its the beard…(lol) It’s more of just an outlaw feel to the music (by today’s standards anyway). I think Outlaw Country has always appealed far more to male listeners than females (well, outside of trailer parks in the South anyway) and that’s why today’s radio programmers ignore it. Well that and the fact it has a historical context which seems to be verboten in the world of “Young Country”…

  9. Noeller
    October 1, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    It’s the outlaw feel – the general “F*** You!” to Nashville’s current mainstream, but even moreso, I think it’s the screaming guitars and overall “rock” sound, which is something that Waylon tried to incorporate as well. I don’t know that a guy like Waylon really ever considered himself a traditional country artist – hell he was touring with Holly, Valens and the Bopper, right??? At the time, those were NOT country acts, per se…

  10. Brady Vercher
    October 1, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    As far as that attitude goes, I think Church is just putting on a front, but desperately wants to be accepted by the mainstream and radio. Concerning personality, Waylon was more a force to be reckoned with than Church could ever hope to be.

    In the most generic, superficial sense of the word, “rock” may be a part of both of their sounds, but as far as the sounds resembling each other, I just don’t buy it.

    Waylon was touring with those folks well before his country career actually began and way before he gained notoriety.

    I just don’t think such a comparison actually “sticks” and really does a disservice to Church himself.

  11. J.B.
    October 1, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    I am so glad you gave the song a thumbs up. I do agree with you it is a catchy song. And it will get stuck in your head. I give a big thumbs up. This is probably my favorite single from Eric to date.

  12. Noeller
    October 1, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    Brady – I think the story about EC getting kicked off the RF tour is all I needed to hear to confirm his legitimacy. And, seeing him open up for Doc Walker and Dierks a few years back, he is an honest to goodness rocker. I think the dude is the real deal, but y’all are closer to the scene than I am, so you probably have a better idea.

  13. Brian
    October 1, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    All artists would like to be accepted by the mainstream. Some choose to keep their sound in doing so. Church isn’t pandering to get ahead. Same with Gary Allan (mostly)

    That being said Waylon and Church aren’t really that close to each other. Some of their stuff and vocal inflections sound similar but Jennings was a better writer overall. Church does sound close to late 70’s Waylon though.

    Also, Waylon wouldn’t be played on country radio today either because he doesn’t fit the demographic

  14. Steve Harvey
    October 1, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    I don’t like Church’s voice. I find his delivery unconvincing.
    I think he’s a talented writer who’s come up with some good tunes, but I find it hard to get worked up about him. I don’t find him to be out of the mainstream to any significant degree as far as his music goes. It’s all a bit lame.

  15. Stephen
    October 2, 2009 at 7:20 am

    You might recall that when he was kicked off the RF “Me and My Gang” tour, he went to the same cities on the “Me and Myself Tour” and honored all tickets to the RF show…awesome

  16. Kelly
    October 7, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Eric Church is one of the best artists out there. I have both of his cds and can honestly say i love every song on them, which does not happen often. I like his music a lot because he sings the REAL music unlike most singers today who just want radio time. We definitely need more artists like him out there but until then his cd will stay in my truck. If you haven’t, check him out, you wont regret it.

  17. Lucas
    October 7, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Eric Church just goes out, kicks butt, and takes names.

    With that being said, he could use some better mastering… if I knew somebody that did that, oh wait, I do… me. This is getting picky, but I think this song’s ONLY problem is his voice isn’t present enough in the track – the guy has grit, let it be heard.

  18. frozenphan
    October 13, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I just heard this one on the radio….it sounds like they speeded it up..??

  19. Deidre
    October 16, 2009 at 11:56 am

    I appreciate the fact that in the past 5 years Eric’s only released two (quality) albums. He’s in no rush to deliver in hopes of satifying anyone. I respect that. I’ve seen (and met) Eric live a few times and I can honestly that he is every bit the “rebel” that he appears to be. He makes no excuses and plays (and puts on shows) exactly how he wants to. In a modern-country world where people try their very best to pawn-off bands such as RF as “country” it’s refreshing to see (and hear) someone such as Church deliver rocking country tunes. Both albums are worth investing both time and money in. “Lotta Boot Left to Fill” showcases just how Eric feels about today’s country scene and the performers but, he doesn’t forget that he, himself has a long ways to go or as he puts it “A Lotta Boot Left to Fill”.

  20. Colt
    October 16, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    If this guy is “Waylon” right now, he better hope its pre-beard.

  21. Sheep
    December 22, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    I love this song. It’s fun and he’s got a nice edge to his voice.

  22. Ben Foster
    March 14, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    That was the meanest favorable review I’ve ever read. You harshly criticized the song’s use of cliches, and then gave it a thumbs-up. I agree with everything the review said, except that I would give it a thumbs-DOWN. By the way, the name of that Terri Clark song is “You’re Easy on the Eyes,” not “Hard On the Heart,” and it is WAY better than this song.

  23. sam (sam)
    March 14, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    I agree with Ben Foster. I would also give this song a “Thumbs Down.” The lyrics are pretty weak in my mind. And the Terri Clark song is a lot better than this.

    Not only does Erich Church have a lot of boot to fill, he possibly couldn’t fill half the average shoe sold at the local Stride Rite.

  24. Jason
    May 1, 2010 at 9:00 am

    Maybe the lyrics are simply put, but that doesn’t take away anything from the song. Neither does the use of cliche (evident in any song). The lyrics are concise and the listener can identify with them. Isn’t that what a song should do? It describes my feelings about a girl perfectly; maybe that’s why I like it.

    Also, the dreamy, non-standard melody perfectly captures the feelings the song sings about. It feels like he is daydreaming as he is singing the song. What more do you want out of it?

    Great song; keep it up Eric Church.

  25. HEATH
    May 14, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Funny you should mention the production in your review, and give it an unfavorable review. The production is actually what brought me to the song time and again. The more I hear it, the better it sounds… A very unique song on the radio.

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