Eric Church has just released his latest album, 'The Outsiders,' and the new project lives up to its title. Featuring an unusually wide diversity of material, the album reaches far outside the usual commercial constraints of Nashville's mainstream country music scene.

That was by design, Church says. After experiencing a musical and commercial breakthrough with his previous album, 2011's 'Chief,' he and producer Jay Joyce were eager to explore new avenues.

"We made a conscious effort when we started this album," he concedes. "We were at a point in our career where,  I understand that we had two choices. I could have continued to do 'Drink in My Hand,' 'Springsteen,' 'Creepin'' . . . I know how to do those things. I know how to continue the career that way. I think we made a conscious effort to challenge ourselves artistically, and do something that was artistic. That's what we did. That's what we chose on this album. We made it that way."

The resulting album is as challenging a piece of work as anything that's likely to emerge from Nashville this year -- or any year. Musically the work is all over the map, from the searing hard rock influences brought to bear on the title track, to more vulnerable songs like 'A Man Who was Gonna Die Young,' and even a touch of nostalgia in 'Give Me Back My Hometown,' the second single.

There are certainly some songs that are likely for radio airplay, but Church has clearly not embraced the singles-only mentality that is the prevailing wisdom on Music Row. One of the highlights of the album is a trilogy consisting of 'Dark Side' and 'Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness)', a piece of work so boldly different from anything any other mainstream country artist would record and release that it can't even be accurately described in words. Essentially a rant about the perils of the crass, commercial side of Nashville, it's also a master class in audio production, with an unusual sound palette that has to be heard to be appreciated.

Church attributes that to a willingness to explore on the part of his creative team.

"I think a lot of . . . when you make an album, you can't go in with this preconceived notion of, "Here's what it is.' You have to be committed and take the time to the process, to let the creativity lead you there," he reflects. "And I think for us, that's we did. We let the songs dictate what was next, and there's two songs on this album that if you pull them out of the album, I like 'em -- I just don't love 'em near as much as if you put 'em back in, because of the space that they give the songs in between, and what I feel when I listen to the record."

He adds, "By themselves, fine, but in its spot, I love 'em. It's an album. It's start to finish. Shuffle is gonna aggravate me on this, if people play shuffle. It's not right, It needs to be listened to as an album."

'The Outsiders' is available now at Amazon and iTunes.