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Eric Church, new Chief of the charts, opens for Toby Keith at Red Rock

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Eric Church.
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By Nikki Villoria

Third time’s the charm for Eric Church, as his third album Chief has placed the country singer atop the charts for the first time. Chief debuted at No. 1 on Thursday on the Billboard 200 albums chart and the country albums list.

“We’ve had some success and some times when it was lean, but we kept playing shows and kept building and building -- and then, this past year, and really this past week, everything really blew up with the record,” Church said. “The album’s reception has been unreal.

“It far exceeds any expectation I had. It’s crazy, to put it mildly. I’ve never had a No. 1 on the radio. Heck, I’ve never had a Top Five on the radio. It makes my heart feel good.”

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Eric Church.

So what sets Chief apart from Church’s previous releases Sinners Like Me (2006) and Carolina (2009)? “For this album, we kept it more live than other albums. Creatively, we didn’t show up at the office at all. We didn’t think out the process. It was very fearless.”

Chief features 11 songs, including Church’s most recent hit, “Homeboy.” “A lot of times, we make albums in Nashville, and everyone’s very scared whether it will be a hit. Is the label going to like it? Is the radio going to like it? Are the fans going to like it?

“For this, we didn’t really address that at all. We just said to hell with it, we’re going to go make a creative record, an interesting record and see where that takes us. Very rarely can you do that and capture magic, but we were able to capture it.”

One of Church’s favorite tracks on Chief is “Hungover & Hard Up.” “I think it’s interesting, I think production-wise, it’s something that hadn’t really been done before. I love the lyrics and the parade of the storyline.”

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Eric Church at the 46th Academy of Country Music Awards on April 3, 2011.

Church, along with J.T. Hodges, opens for Toby Keith on the Locked and Loaded tour tonight at Red Rock Resort’s new Amphitheater. “Performing with him is great. I love the way Toby has approached his career.

“The great thing about Toby that not a lot of people would know is he’s had the same manager throughout his entire career, and that just shows the kind of person he is and the kind of boss he is, and I respect that more than he’ll ever know.”

And tonight’s concert? “It will be high energy, that’s for sure,” Church said. “I love Vegas, and it’s our first time at Red Rock, so I’m looking forward to checking it out.”

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