Carrie Underwood has been on fire the last two years and shows no sign of going out any time soon. Arguably the most successful country artist currently, Carrie has garnered 7 Grammy awards, 17 Billboard Music awards, 11 Academy of Country Music awards, 5 Country Music Association awards, and 10 BMI awards, among others. Underwood released her 5th studio album, Storyteller, in October 2015. It officially kicked off a new era in her career, an era that has already proven to be the biggest one yet! Fans and critics alike have said that Underwood’s Storyteller tour is by far the best of Underwood’s tours, and the numbers back them up.
Now I have to admit, I am a huge Carrie fan. Storyteller happens to be my favorite album from Carrie. I’ve always been a fan of Carrie’s singles, but admit that I didn’t really become a fan until Blown Away, but I assure you I have since gotten totally on board of that bandwagon. Carrie is an incredible vocalist; I’d go as far as to say she’s the best of her generation. Carrie’s first two singles from Storyteller, “Smoke Break” and “Heartbeat,” both hit #1 on the charts. Admittedly, I was lukewarm to “Smoke Break” at first, though it does grow on you after a few listens, and it happens to be one of the two most country sounding songs on the record. Alas, I can’t say the same about “Heartbeat.” The single never grew on me. My main issue with the single was the R&B flavored production. It sounded more Sam Hunt than Carrie Underwood.
I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when I heard that “Church Bells” was going to serve as Carrie’s third single from Storyteller. It is my favorite song on the record, with “Choctaw County Affair” coming in at a close second. Lyrically “Church Bells” is pure country, spinning a tale of a dirt poor beauty marrying a handsome rich guy in hopes of living a happily ever after fairy tale. Jenny is described as being “blessed with beauty” but “broke as hell,” having grown up “wild like a Black Foot Daisy out in the shack with the Blue Tick Hound”. She caught the eye of an oil man dancing one summer night in a dime store dress and we’re told that the relationship was “all roses drippin’ in diamonds, sippin’ on Champaign”. The first chorus, “She could hear those church bells ringing, ringing/ and up the loft that whole choir singing, singing/ fold your hands and close your eyes/ yeah everything’s gonna be alright/ just listen to the church bells ringing,” comes in right after the couple gets married.
Sadly things go terribly wrong. Outwardly, the couple appears to be living the good life with everyone thinking they were “Ken and Barbie,” but things were the opposite behind closed doors. “Ken” turned out to be an abusive alcoholic, beating Jenny. The narrator tells us that “all his money could never save Jenny from the devil livin’ in his eyes.” The relationship is then described through Jenny’s eyes as, “all bruises covered in makeup, dark sunglasses, and that next morning sitting in the back pew praying with the Baptists,” Jenny, battered and desperate, finally takes matters into her own hands and “slips something in his Tennessee whiskey no law man was ever gonna find,” leaving the narrator to conclude, “and how he died is still a mystery, but he hit a woman for the very last time.”
“Church Bells” is a powerful song, vocally, lyrically, and production-wise. It serves as an anthem for the abused. Some critics have called it just another man-bashing, revenge song. I feel sorry for those close-minded critics. They obviously can’t see the true message/meaning of this song. For those of us who can relate to this song, it carries a powerful message. In regards to murder and revenge in abuse cases, I think the line from Martina’s “Independence Day” sums up my stance, “I’m not saying it’s right or it’s wrong, but maybe it’s the only way.” Ultimately, we need to remember that this song is a story, one that rings true for some and is just good fantasy for others. Either way, “Church Bells” is excellent. I have no doubt the single will reach #1, for two reasons: 1) It deserves to and 2) Carrie’s fans will see to it that it does. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this single.
What can I say, I’ve always loved a good murder ballad 😉
“and how he died is still a mystery, but he hit a woman for the very last time.”
Written by Liz Austin/CMM Contributing Writer