When I caught up with Eric Church in Chicago last week, he explained that when he puts together the set list for his live show, about half of the 27 songs were never on the radio. Still, his fans know all the words.
So after playing all those deep cuts night after night, I thought it was safe to assume Church would have some favorite never-released tunes of his own from each of his past four albums.
I was right.
1. From his 2014 The Outsiders album, Church told me his favorite song is track No. 2, "A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young." I have to agree. I get obsessed with any song that paints a picture of middle-aged man living dangerously.
2. "Springsteen" is the exception to his rule of loving deep cuts the most. On 2011's Chief, Church's favorite was "Springsteen." It's hard not to love the one song that reminded us all that a melody can sound just like a memory.
3. The title track of Church's 2009 album Carolina ranked high on his list. It's hard to believe that one never made its way to radio.
4. Also from that 2009 album, he said, he has always loved "You Make It Look so Easy." Because, he told me while his wife was within earshot, "That was our wedding song."
5. "Livin' Part of Life" is from his 2006 debut album Sinners Like Me. I've seen Church do this one live, and it's as much a part of who he is as "Two Pink Lines" and "These Boots."
6. "Lightning" is another great tune he loves from that 2006 album. "'Lightning' got me my deal," Church told me. "That separated me from other singers early on. I remember (label chief) Mike Dungan looking at me like, 'This is a death penalty song. And I can't do anything with it. But that is cool.'"
The songs Church digs the most tend to be those songwriter kinds of songs -- the ones that have a story to tell or a memory to share or a confession to make. Or, as Church described them to me, "oh-my-God songs."
"I miss those great oh-my-God songs," he said. "I mean, that's what Nashville is. It is a songwriter town. You can walk up and down the street and go into any songwriter night, and there are four or five guys or girls who can lay you out with a song. But that's not the stuff that always makes it on the radio."