Eric Church is a country music storm cloud ready to break. At first, his dark and moody music picked up only the few fans willing to give his albums multiple spins before casting their opinions. His sophomore effort, 'Carolina,' threw a few bolts of lightning and blanketed a larger population, but still mostly threatened and rumbled across the sky. 'Chief' -- in stores on July 26 -- sounds like a wide-scale, torrential, once-a-century widow-maker. But where would Church go for a fourth album if he emptied his cloud all at once?

The album -- named after his grandfather -- is far more radio-friendly than the North Carolina singer's previous two efforts, but he doesn't sacrifice artistry. There's still plenty of Church's "do it my way" spirit on songs like 'Creepin',' 'Keep On,' and 'Jack Daniels.' "Yeah I hung in pretty good for a round or two / But it don't fair like Daddy taught me to / Her memory turned my head and then he snuck up from behind / Jack Daniels kicked my ass again last night," he sings during this song that's about getting over a girl.

The love ballad 'Like Jesus Does' is an easy choice for the next single. "She's believes in me like she believes her Bible / Loves me like Jesus does," Church sings on this song, one of two raw and vulnerable moments on 'Chief.' There's plenty of rowdy, with 'Drink in My Hand' being another easy choice for a single. "The boss man can shove that overtime, up his can / All I want to do is put a drink in my hand."

The album will pick up and drop fans with its diversity. No two songs sound alike, and while some touch on themes Church addressed in previous albums -- 'Country Music Jesus' is this album's 'Lotta Boot Left to Fill' -- he also covers new ground. 'Springsteen' is his 'Tim McGraw' by Taylor Swift. Church fans don't have to worry that he's gone pop-country; the song just uses a famous singer as a symbol for lost love like Swift does.

The lack of homogeneity makes for three bad songs on the album, but few will agree on what those songs are. For the sake of this review, the low points are 'Homeboy,' 'I'm Getting Stoned,' and 'Over When It's Over.'

Church's songwriting continues to get better. In fact, certain moments on 'Chief' are as good as anything released this year. At times he tries to take on too much and the story gets cloudy, 'Creepin'' is one example, but his ambition often pays off. 'Chief' is likely to  be the album that breaks this artist, but when you listen to Eric Church albums you get a sense that he'd be fine if it doesn't.

4 Stars

Listen to 'Springsteen' by Eric Church

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