Eric Church might be the only “Outsider” that can show up at country’s biggest awards show and play a song that he only released digitally just minutes before. But the CMA Awards’ leading nominee (tied with Little Big Town) did it with subtle, engaging grace. New song “Mr. Misunderstood” name-checks Ray Wylie Hubbard, Elvis Costello and Jeff Tweedy, even evoking Wilco’s “Misunderstood” in the process.
The performance showcased both his ability to deliver honest, ballad-like moments, like the track’s intro, and bend it into his own unique breed of rough-edged, rocking twang. No one in the audience knew the lyrics — members of Church’s own Church Choir fan club only received Mr. Misunderstood yesterday, and it hit iTunes just as the CMAs began — but it left an indelible impression. And further cemented the argument that this was shaping up to be the most entertaining CMAs in some years.
“It always takes me time to look for inspiration to make a new album,” Church said in a copy of a hand-written note delivered to media tonight. “This time inspiration came looking for me. Together, we found Mr. Misunderstood. Today, it’s yours.”