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Carolina by Eric Church

On “Lotta Boot Left to Fill,” the most striking track on his second album, Eric Church calls out the music world’s name-dropping poseurs directly: You sing about Johnny Cash / The Man in Black would’ve whipped your ass.

Those fighting words would carry a little more weight if the rest of Carolina was that provocative—instead, it’s straight-up-the-middle contemporary country with just enough frayed edges to kinda-sorta justify Eric’s bravado.

It’s those less commercially minded moments on Carolina that are its strongest, like the finely detailed ballad “Where She Told Me to Go” and the hard-bitten “Smoke a Little Smoke.”

Likewise, its weakest track is the one most squarely aimed at the charts: “Love Your Love the Most” is another one of the ubiquitous “list” songs we’ve been bombarded with lately, and it’s just as aimless and shapeless as the rest of them.

It’s nothing Johnny Cash would likely have handed out a beatdown over, but neither does it suggest his boots will be filled anytime soon.

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