Rowdy North Carolina singer/songwriter Eric Church gets confessional on 'Sinners Like Me' 

Eric Church with Joel Wilson Band
9 p.m. Friday
Diamond Ballroom
8001 S. Eastern

Eric Church is labeled a rebel because he does what he likes. But he's just a good ol' country boy in the vein of Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver: a man who follows his heart and isn't too shy to call things as he sees them.
Church isn't afraid to admit he likes to "Smoke a Little Smoke," and has no problem calling out country star wannabes whose put-on cowboy wear still leaves a "Lotta Boot Left to Fill." He's through with "get-ups, gimmicks, one-hit wonders that don't stick, pretty boys acting tough," as the song goes. It's been that way since the North Carolina singer debuted in 2006 with "Sinners Like Me." Any success isn't about to change him.

"I kind of tell you what I think, and sometimes it makes people mad, sometimes it turns people off, but I think that's OK. Not everybody's going to get into that," he said.

His shows are rowdy affairs with a strong rock edge, and his music is unabashed in its candor. Indeed, "Sinners Like Me" has an obvious chip on its shoulder, much like the one Church acquired getting doors slammed in his face for years in Nashville, Tenn.

"There was a lot of piss and vinegar in there with the gravel in the gut," he said. "I had a lot to prove. It almost became a personal vendetta. I was going to get something going, by God, if it was the last thing I did."

Everything might've ended as quickly as it had begun. His debut's success earned him a slot opening for Rascal Flatts on a tour heralded as among music's highest-grossing. But Church isn't the type to play nice to please anyone else. His shows were louder and longer than tour organizers wanted, and he didn't take too kindly to trimming his set and turning down the volume.

"When they wanted it shorter, I'd go longer and there were discussions about it," he said with a laugh, recalling how he was kicked off the tour and replaced by some pretty young newcomer named Taylor Swift. "Once we squandered that, they said, 'That's suicide' ... and it was for a little bit. But we just kept clawing and playing."

Church proved it with last year's release, "Carolina," which bettered its predecessor by debuting at No. 4 on Billboard's country charts and No. 17 on the Billboard 200. It's still hanging tough in the country charts more than a year later " no surprise, given that it's an even crisper, better-written and more diverse effort.

For Church, albums are only part of the equation.

"If you just listen to the record and don't come see what we do live, you won't ever get us. You'll like the music, but you'll never get what it is," he said. "We haven't had the opportunities some people have, TV-wise and marketing-wise, because of what we do and because we piss some people off. That happens sometimes, but the passion's there, and that's been where we've won up to now." "Chris Parker

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