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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