Album Review – Alex Williams – “Waging Peace”

The sounds and the words of country music are not enough in themselves to evoke the magic that only the best of country music can deliver. You want to know that the character cawing into the mic is speaking straight from their own heart and experiences, bearing their soul, even if what they’re singing was originally composed by someone else. That’s the authenticity that makes country music unique, and why the best of country music is so difficult to attain.

Alex Williams released a rookie album in 2017 called Better Than Myself via Big Machine Records—the same label as Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, Taylor Swift, and the like. It was far from pop country though. It was Big Machine hedging bets against country music’s burgeoning roots resurgence. All the ingredients were there for it to be an auspicious premier for Alex Williams. The instincts of Alex were pure. His voice was perfect for country. The sounds of true country music in an Outlaw characteristic were all there. Williams had all the right country music heroes in the Outlaws of yesteryear, and guys like Cody Jinks and Whitey Morgan in the present tense to look up to and learn from.

But many of the songs just lacked a level of meaning, and not only because some of them felt derivative and trite—almost like elements of popular country garbed in a more Outlaw style. Having never toured before recording the album, the cart got put before the horse. The songs hadn’t been lived yet. And despite its positive moments and warm reception by some, the debut album was never going to be the ideal specimen from Alex Williams.

There’s a reason Williams waited five years before releasing his second record. Now a seasoned journeyman who’s paid his dues on the road and tacked some skins on the wall, Williams was ready to write, sing, and perform with the kind of conviction you need to sell your songs to the audience. The new album Waging Peace is at times very specifically about being a touring musician. At other times it’s about still being relatively young, but feeling old. Overall, it’s a seasoned and sensational specimen of Outlaw-style country music rendered in the modern context.

Alex Williams and producer Ben Fowler explore the full breadth of the Outlaw country influence on this album, from the waltz-timed Willie Nelson modes of songcraft complete with Mickey Raphael harmonica drifting in between the verses, to the the half time beat of Waylon Jennings with the moan of the steel guitar underpinning it all, to songs that rightly qualify just as much as rock as they do country, Waging Peace is a job well done in revitalizing 70s era country in new original songs.

Alex Williams is able to put some real world wisdom behind the words of a song like “Old Before My Time,” where he acknowledges there’s so much left to learn, even if a bleary-eyed weariness has already began to overtake him. Same goes for the solo-written “The Struggle,” where he rightly concludes that it’s the getting there where the real value is found, not in the end reward. Williams also calls upon a few key co-writers to flesh some good song ideas into great ones—guys like Mando Saenz, Tennessee Jet, and Ben Jarrell.

Along with a great album cover—which is a lost art these days—Waging Peace is also graced by leaving the instrumental tails on many of these songs. Such a great set of players was assembled for this record, why not let them play past the radio edit like they do favorably on “Rock Bottom,” “Higher Road,” and how it’s the piano that takes you out on the well-written final song, “The Vice.”

“An old soul sleeping in a young man’s skin, made him want to live like the legends did,” Williams sings. “He couldn’t care less about the getting there, until he found a place to go without a’ going anywhere…”

Art illustrating life is always better than the other way around. You hear the voice of Alex Williams, and you immediately recognize that he was born to sing country music. But to sing it right, you first have to live it. Not only does Waging Peace accomplish this, Williams also has the presence to man up to that realization, and impart that wisdom through this album as well.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8.2/10)

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