Eric Church's latest album, Mr. Misunderstood, was named Album of the Year at the 2016 CMA Awards -- but his collaboration with Rhiannon Giddens on "Kill a Word" during the awards show really made Church a winner. The country star -- who has been a fan of Giddens since her time with the Carolina Chocolate Drops -- says that their duet was his way of encouraging both artists and fans stop focusing on genre and instead focus on the music itself.

"I think that Americana and country, we’re the same family; we’re maybe distant cousins, but we’re the same family," Church told The Boot and other reporters at the 2016 CMA Awards. "I think, when it works right, we’re all pulling for each other, and we don’t draw that hard line in the sand, where you’re here and I’m there. Music should never do that, in my opinion; we should never draw lines of what the genre is or this or that.

"I think that the most exciting stuff is happening right now," he continued. "I think that what is happening in Americana really bled into country music. You could start with Chris Stapleton last year; that was the heart of Americana, and he was a big winner, and he’s been a popular winner this past year."

Church, whose debut album, Sinners Like Me, was released five years before he earned his first CMA Awards nod, stayed his course even when he wasn't receiving industry recognition. The singer (correctly) trusted that he, and others following a similar path, would eventually be recognized for their hard work.

"I think everything with music or anything is cyclical. It’s an exciting time in country music," maintains Church. "The people that are not only winning awards, but are relevant -- You could even go past country music and into the Americana world, and there are a lot of people now that can go sell out two or three Rymans or whatever. They’re relevant, and the music’s relevant, and the depth is relevant. I think that’s something that doesn’t always happen that way."

Church, who recently celebrated a new No. 1 hit with "Record Year," is encouraged about where country music is headed: "It’s a time that, I think, historically, as people look back on, it’s going to be something that they can look to this period and go, ‘That was a positive time in country music,'" he says.

"Really, it comes down to the spirit of country music, and the creativity, and not being boxed in because of commercialism or what a label or what radio will play," Church adds. "Sometimes you can get boxed in on what you think your rules are, and I think that spirit of freedom is what makes stuff work and sell. For where we are at this time in our career in country music, myself included, it’s just neat to be with something that you can be proud of the music being made."

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