Zane Williams spent nearly a decade in Nashville writing songs for a living. From his words with the Dallas Observer, those years left him wanting.
“I felt out of place,” Williams says. “People there refer to it as ‘finding your tribe.’ I tried, but I just never found my group to settle in with. I tried wearing a few different musical hats, but I preferred just putting on a fun show featuring well-written and hooky songs. There just wasn’t much of an audience for that.”
Eventually, he came back to Texas, his birth state. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s when he really found his footing. In his seventh studio album since 2006, Bringin’ Country Back, Williams pays homage to that journey on the final track, “Willie’s Road.” In it, Williams sings of Willie Nelson’s path, which found him more or less striking out in Nashville before kicking off an iconic career.
“Cause we’re rolling down the road that Willie paved,” Williams sings. “I don’t know where it’s all headed, but I never have regretted rolling down the road that Willie paved.”
You’ve got to give it to Williams: nobody can accuse him of straying from the country sound he professes his love for on Bringin’ Country Back. The title track and album opener leaves no doubt of that. And while Williams still sounds like the lovable crooner from stellar past releases like Texas Like That and Overnight Success, he undoubtedly dove head first into the country revival theme.
What it leaves you with is perhaps one of the most feel-good Texas country albums of the year. The first five songs crescendo in optimism all the way up to “That’s Just Me,” which may rival Travis Tritt’s “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive” in terms of painting a picture of an unapologetically likable guy.
Seriously, Williams says every single thing a girl’s parents want to hear when she brings him home for the first date. It’s nearly impossible to listen to the first half of Bringin’ Country Back without feeling good about yourself and country music.
It’s practically a living embodiment of the idea of Southern hospitality. Hell, every tourist-heavy country joint in Texas may as well play “Honkytonk Situation” on loop. Even if “Church Of Country Music” goes just one pun too far on the clever-o-meter.
But Williams still hits his songwriting best when he escapes the themes and goes straight for the heart. Or in this case, not having one. “I Don’t Have The Heart” presents the first hiccup in the otherwise happy portrait Williams paints on the record. And it’s an absolute killer. In a good way.
The song tackles that honky tonk love he references earlier in “Honkytonk Situation,” but from a more realistic situation. We’re all still trying to get over something or someone.
We also catch a glimpse of the Williams from earlier albums in “Keep On Keepin’ On,” which manages to capture both the album’s chipper spirit and his previously more modern sound.
But before we get there, Williams makes your grandma blush with the steamy love tune “You Beat All I’ve Ever Seen.” Though it’s tasteful, it somehow manages to come across as one of the more erotic Texas country tunes in a while. Perhaps that’s because Williams sounds like a grown ass man on the song. A lot of the “sexier” sounds in the genre hold an air of childishness you won’t find here.
Then, just to remind you what he’s capable of doing to your heart, Williams hits you one more time in the feels with “Goodbye Love.”
From the retro album artwork inward, Zane Williams’ Bringin’ Country Back sets out on a mission. He doesn’t shy away from jabs at modern country. (Williams does call them “murderers on music row,” after all). He loads tracks with 70s-era wah guitar, fiddle and slide. And he definitely tells you what country is, if you’ve heard too much of what it isn’t by now.
At the end of the day, Bringin’ Country Back is one of Zane Williams’ most thematically complete records. It will please fans. He clearly built it for the live show. Is it his best songwriting? It all depends on your personal tastes. You won’t find something that knocks you on your butt like “Jayton and Jill” or “While I Was Away.”
But you will find a defiantly confident artist following the path he was meant to follow. And that’s always music to our ears.