Eric Church

Nashville eats mavericks for breakfast, spitting them out compromised or undigested. Eric Church has never played by Nashville's rules, yet he appears poised on the brink of country mega-stardom. The clever iconoclast's edgy debut single, "Two Pink Lines" (off his 2006 debut, Sinners Like Me), waited out a teen pregnancy scare; later that year, Church got booted from a Rascal Flatts tour for playing too long and/or loud. The down-home rural North Carolina native was blackballed from the country touring circuit for a minute, but the rock clubs he played instead toughened his sound. This is apparent on 2009's rebellious Carolina, where Church claims that country's still got a "Lotta Boot Left to Fill" and scored a surprise hit with pot ode "Smoke a Little Smoke." Last year's chart-topping Chief builds on that with more witty phrasing and a tight, rugged sound built to conquer country's suddenly guitar-obsessed capital.

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