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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October 24, 2022 @ 9:16 am
So glad you reviewed this and got the word out. Indiana boy done good. Alex kicks his tour off in a couple weeks so be sure to check him out live when he comes through. There’s some other Indiana artists that’ll be making noise and releasing independent country albums in the coming months including Isaac Rudd and the Revolvers, Christine Kindred and a great three-part-harmony girl group called Indy Annie’s. Real country music is alive and well in the Midwest.
October 24, 2022 @ 10:59 am
Agreed Rich! I hate to promote my page on Kyle’s site but if you or anyone else enjoys learning about artists from the midwest checkout my facebook page “Black Dirt Country Rock” where I focus on artists only from IL, IN, KY, MO, IA. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2893468644218367. I have helped get the word out on all of those artists you mentioned.
October 24, 2022 @ 11:07 am
No worries posting links to stuff as long as it doesn’t suck. If you’re helping to promote artists, post away.
October 24, 2022 @ 5:24 pm
Thanks Kyle! I’ll do my best to not have a page that sucks haha!
October 24, 2022 @ 2:54 pm
Rich and Chris,
You might want to keep an eye on Stephen Wilson, Jr.
Love Isaac Rudd and The Revolvers.
October 24, 2022 @ 5:26 pm
Thanks! I’m always on the lookout for more artists from the area. I feel like I have a pretty good ear to the ground for artists from Illinois and Indiana. I’m just now starting to build a library of artists from KY, MO, and IA. Stephen Wilson Jr. must have slipped off my radar somehow.
October 25, 2022 @ 3:48 am
Don’t forget to check out an old band of mine, Cody Ikerd and the Sidewinders out of Bedford, IN.
October 24, 2022 @ 6:15 pm
I actually saw Stephen open for Morgan Wade two weeks ago. His energy was amazing and played the hell out of his acoustic. But even more amazing was something I’d never seen before – his only accompaniment was a pedal steel. Most aggressive steel player I’ve ever seen. Played it like a lead guitar and could make the entire room shake. A very cool show.
October 24, 2022 @ 6:21 pm
That sounds like a Hell of a good time!
October 24, 2022 @ 6:36 pm
That is So Cool.
What did you think of his voice? I watched one of his videos, earlier, & think he has something.
An “it” factor, if you will. He reminds me of someone. But i’ll be doggone if i can come up with the name. And agreed, love his guitar playing.
And now i could kick myself for not going to the Marshall Tucker Band show, Friday night.
He opened for them
October 24, 2022 @ 7:06 pm
Stephen wilson Jr is the fucking man. Anyone who doesn’t know him needs to listen ASAP. I’ve been trying to get word out for ages
“Goodbye LA” album from jeremy pinnell rips
November 1, 2022 @ 7:43 am
Di you’ll love this. So over the weekend I’m sitting by the fire at my sisters place having a few beers and playing my stuff for the mainstream radio country folks – Cody, William Clark Green, various Texas ladies, etc…. No real reaction to any of it until Year to be Young 1994 comes on. First verse and I’ve got people asking – who’s this?! This is awesome. What a cool voice…..
Yeah – he’s got something alright. No doubt.
November 1, 2022 @ 8:08 am
Sitting by the fire at your sister’s house.
That sounds awesome.
Were you playing guitar?
Could kick myself for not going to the Marshall Tucker show a couple weeks ago, where Stephen was the opener.
Heard that the M. Tucker Band really sucked, but Stephen was good. (Well, actually heard that the singers sucked, but that the band was Very good)
Someone guesstimated that 150 people walked out of the venue, a couple songs after the M.T.B. took the stage.
November 1, 2022 @ 9:16 am
Couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first.
But now i know what it is, after watching Year To Be Young 1994.
Stephen Wilson, Jr., reminds me of Waylon Jennings.
Both deadly sexy, without any effort.
Waylon, back in the day.
Not coming at this from a provocative angle.
Stephen has a voice that you stop & listen to.
As did Waylon, of course
October 24, 2022 @ 1:48 pm
This is my favorite album of the year. Front to back, it’s a great record.
October 24, 2022 @ 1:51 pm
I think it was sometime 2017 when I found this site and later in the year one night 3 guys named Whitey, Ward, and Alex I’d heard about on here were playing up the street from me at The Brauerhouse. I wasn’t yet that familiar with their music but I went to check it all out. 7 or 800 packed the place and from Alex’s opening notes to Whiteys encore I knew my life was changed. Alex came out afterwards and hung out in the crowd etc…Since then I’ve seen them all & Cody several times with Alex always relegated to opener. To be honest as the years went on I always wondered when’s this guy gonna put out a new album? Teased us last year with that tune Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet which I loved but it’s more of a Rock thing. When he’d released the couple new ones off Waging Peace I loved em but man I could’ve never imagined they’d all be THIS good. Great title track and album cover, a few songs get a chance breathe and jam out a bit, others have a big chorus & hook. Everything is congruent and just fits. Can’t wait to hear these live!!! Nice job Alex.
October 24, 2022 @ 6:33 pm
JB, Great story you shared there. Very similar reckoning timeline for me as well with the same group of artists at Boondocks in Springfield. Been to as many concerts as I can around Central IL ever since. Definitely check out Black Dirt Country Rock page if you’re on Facebook. Credit @Chris Lewis
October 25, 2022 @ 8:23 pm
“Great title track and album cover, …”
Not privy to his reasoning for the album cover, but love it.
Cardinal is the Indiana state bird.
Was born in IN. and lived here 1st 19 years. (Father was an engineer at Cummins). Cardinals are everywhere in this state. It is so fun to watch the males & females interact, feed each other. They are breathtaking.
Awesome that you have been able to see that group of singers, so often.
Am going to make a point of seeing Stephen Wilson, Jr. hopefully soon.
Think that guy really has something.
October 26, 2022 @ 6:41 am
Hey JB, I was at that show too. You headed to Joe Staff Friday night at Law Office? Be cool to say hi!
October 26, 2022 @ 7:11 am
Yeah that would be cool but I’m not going to make it to the Joe Stamm show and I didn’t even know about the Alex show on the 13th. The Law Office is a bit of a cruise but I told them to keep me informed on upcoming shows. Not sure what’s going on over there, every show is spur of the moment and they’re not posting about em anywhere. They’re all invite or word of mouth only I think?? I heard there were others before Alex?
October 26, 2022 @ 7:17 am
Bummer. I live right now the street, so it is much closer for me. They are doing all private shows now. There is an email list that the owner, Boyd, sends out show announcements too. All tickets need to be purchased prior to the show. It’s pretty weird. Here’s the email to get added to the list: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hope to see you there some time.
October 24, 2022 @ 3:36 pm
His original album had its moments, but I agree seemed a bit forced at points. The bro-country-esque “More Than Survival,” for example, felt very out of place and was an awful part of what was an otherwise decent first album.
I’m glad to see this project come along, and look forward to giving this being in the rotation of a good while.
October 24, 2022 @ 5:10 pm
Great album. Love it!
Thanks for informative review.
October 24, 2022 @ 5:25 pm
I still have really enjoyed the first album, but really looking forward to diving in this one. Really like the tune Old Before My Time. Some of the lyrics really hit for me. I will have to pick this one up at some point.
October 25, 2022 @ 6:37 am
I actually enjoyed the first album and thought it had some great songs on it. Seemed like forever since that release until this one that I was very excited that this album finally here. Have been listening all weekend, and it is not a disappointment. This is my kind of country. Thanks.