Zane Williams Is “Bringin’ Country Back” on New Album
Don’t take my word for it. Ask around the Texas music scene about who some of the most well-respected songwriters are at the moment, and many will include the name Zane Williams on that list. And Zane’s got the hardware and recognition to prove it. A former finalist of MerleFest’s prestigious Chris Austin songwriting award, and a winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest for his song “Hurry Home,” he landed a publishing deal with Big Yellow Dog Music in 2007, and later “Hurry Home” became a Top 15 hit for Jason Michael Carol.
That element of smarts that has gone into many of Zane’s songs has also manifested itself into moments off the stage when Zane has said or done things that put an issue into perspective, or result in a sum positive for the music. This was evidenced in a big way when the unfortunate and all too common occurrence of his van getting stolen in Houston eventually resulted in an entire crime network targeting bands getting rolled up due to Zane’s tracking device. A song he wrote on the fly about the incident when it first happened showed just what kind of songwriting chops Zane possesses.
You wouldn’t consider Zane Williams anything but a country artist, but a couple of the songs on his last record Texas Like That, specifically “Throwback” seemed to be his own stab at the whole Bro-Country thing, justly give true country listeners some pause when admitting Zane Williams fandom. Even if Zane has plenty of other songs to make up for some of his creative transgressions, there have been a couple of moments where he’s crossed into commercial territory that you can’t go if you want to keep your reputation clean. And like happens so often, these commercially-oriented tracks didn’t really break Zane into superstardom.
But Zane Williams is a smart one, and like many others are recognizing, he understands that the new trend in country music, is actual country music. And this has been exemplified in the Texas scene as much as anywhere with the success of more authentically country performers like the Turnpike Troubadours and Cody Jinks, and with the surprising reception for Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen’s Hold My Beer Vol. 1 in 2015.
Zane Williams senses that people want by God country music again, and that’s exactly what he delivers on the aptly titled Bringin’ Country Back. What’s a bit interesting is that preceding this record and along the same theme was the release of Kevin Fowler’s “Sellout Song” written by Zane. You can tell it likely came from the same crop of songs, or the same songwriting sessions in how it directly broaches the subject about the quality of country and the motivations of certain artists. As was fair, some accused Fowler (and Zane) of a “pot calling kettle” quality to “Sellout Song,” while also questioning the potency of these country protest songs after they’ve become almost as prevalent as the songs they’re protesting.
But Bringin’ Country Back finds Zane giving tried and true examples of country songs himself instead of just complaining about the bad stuff, while not settling down too comfortably in any one particular style. It does get pretty acrimonious though in the hard country Outlaw-style title track:
The murderers on Music Row thought they killed the sound
But it ain’t dead and gone, it’s just gone underground
I bet those Opry singers are rolling in their grave
Watching some of these young guns prancing ’round the stage
Like a little kid trying to wear their daddy’s hat
I hope they can hear me singing, I hope they know that I’m bringing country back
“Honkytonk Situation” is a Texas dancehall shuffle with plenty of fiddle like you might hear from the Turnpike Troubadours, “Church of Country Music” nears almost Western Swing in how it has a jazzy, swaying feel as it affirms the virtues of country by comparing it to a music fan’s Sunday ritual. Like much of true country music, there’s plenty of praise for being out on the back porch and among nature on the record, and songs for the working man like “Keep On Keepin’ On.”
Yet the songwriting on Bringin’ Country Back doesn’t feel like songs written from inspiration as much as perspiration at laboring to make country songs that sound like country songs. It’s like Zane envisioned this concept and then wrote the material for it as opposed to letting the material come to him and then discovering a cohesive theme to construct an album around. So even though Bringin’ Country Back certainly accomplishes its stated goal, at least when it comes to the career of Zane Williams, and certainly is an enjoyable record, it’s hard to find the song on this record that really speaks to you or blows your mind in how it encapsulates some element of heartbreak, for example.
Nonetheless, songs like the final number “Willie’s Road” have flourishes of wit, and remind you what being a country music fan is all about. Bringin’ Country Back isn’t just an album of country music, it is an album about country music, what country music means, what it’s like to be a fan, and maybe even a guidepost to fans and artists explaining what country music is since the definition of “country” has been so besmirched and bastardized recently. From that perspective it makes sense that the songwriting was a bit simplified, almost like a lesson of what country music is supposed to be while not sailing over the head of the average listener. Though it could have used a bit more originality, Zane gets extra credit for the effort and the intent of Bringin’ Country Back, and ultimately delivers an enjoyable, and country, record.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7/10)
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Purchase Bringin’ Country Back from Zane Williams
October 24, 2016 @ 8:08 am
Zane did have a few numbers on the last album that, just like you said, gave me pause, made me think, “What’s he doing?” He is pretty savvy though, and I do like most of his stuff regardless.
October 24, 2016 @ 8:09 am
Damn you, Trigger…
There goes more of my disposable income, thanks to you.
October 24, 2016 @ 8:36 am
I try to judge an artist by either the “average” or “most recurring” type of output… OR by the weights of one or two exemplary albums.
For instance, don’t listen to a lot of Aerosmith… but “Get a Grip” is a fantastic album.
Also think Luke Bryan is a poor artist even though he’s done a couple good songs because a notable majority of his output is poor.
And the way I feel about Zane Williams (and I haven’t heard this album yet so this is based on prior opinions) is that he’s pretty consistently of tolerable and enjoyable output and quality, and only a few songs maybe aren’t so hot. and practically every album has a song or two that I skip because it’s just a poor tune, so I’ll let it slide.
I really like a few Garth Brooks albums. “The Chase” is a good album but I ALWAYS skip over “Dixie Chicken.”
So a few “filler” songs or just plain bad songs is acceptable even on an album of mostly good material.
At least in my opinion.
I think the problem facing the industry is that entire albums are focused around rehashed and “done-before” beer and truck songs, and the one or two good songs on an album are touted as proof that “hey listen to my album I don’t just do the same stuff I have deep songs too” like Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean do.
I’m sorry, thirteen dollars for an album mostly of songs I’ll skip over every time because one or two songs is halfway decent is not going to make them look good. It makes them look desperate, going through the motions trying to move units and sell albums to skeptics.
most people can see right through it.
The reason Zane Williams doesn’t have to explain himself and his lesser songs or try and justify why he recorded them is because he’s got enough good songs and enough of a loyal fanbase that he doesn’t have to market himself…
It also helps that his career isn’t resting on surviving to another awards show to get people reinterested.
Think about it. Aldean got snubbed, then got shut out completely, and his sales and radio play have been in decline ever since. Zane Williams on the other hand doesn’t need to worry about keeping people’s attention becasue he’s not following a hyper trend.
and therein lies the big difference in Country Music as a genre… It’s never been about hyper trends and chasing the dollar.
The criticisms of the Bro movement have forced a lot of top-tier artists to at least put in the motions the pretend to record substantive material, and then they go on T.V. and market it because even the subtantive material can’t speak for itself because it’s not only still bad music, it’s so hidden away and unmarketed and very obviously was only put in their to try and curb the criticisms for another album cycle.
most people don’t buy the marketing anymore.
October 24, 2016 @ 9:20 am
What i really like is the album cover. 60’s-70’s style with a big smile and what an amazing hat!
October 24, 2016 @ 10:11 am
this Zane cat has a magic hat for wordplay, his YT videos of songs written from reader submissions are great
“as much as perspiration at laboring to make country songs that sound like country songs”
yes, that’s the flip side of being clever and good with words — they can sound labored instead of natural
you know who’s a natural? Elizabeth Cook. any plans to review her Exodus of Venus?
October 24, 2016 @ 10:42 am
Some of Zane’s songwriting stuff, especially the stuff he does on the fly and using suggestions from others is incredible. He’s got some sort of gift for that, that top-level songwriters like Jason Isbell and John Moreland can’t even compete with. That’s why it was a little frustrating to not see much of the brilliance translate to the songs of this album, but like I said in the review, I think he approached it wanting to be a little simple and straight down the middle to give a living example of what country music is supposed to be without being so erudite that it goes over people’s heads.
October 24, 2016 @ 10:50 am
I really really like Zane and have been following him for some time. He’s a good singer and songwriter. However, i have thought for awhile that he would elevate to something more. After each album release I thought he was on the verge of making that breakthrough album that would vault him to the upper echelon of country music, but with each release I find myself a bit disappointed. Yes he is a quality musician that has consistently released good albums, but at this point it seems Zane is under achieving. It’s starting to appear as if his career defining moment is not going to come, relegating him to the second tier of top country musicians.
October 24, 2016 @ 12:05 pm
This thread feels too negative to me. Zane is a brilliant wordsmith. He’s as country as a bird dog. That said, I don’t think we’re going to get Keith Urban or popularity here. He doesn’t have a Chris Stapleton wtf was that kind of voice, either. On the other hand he’s more wholesome than Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell, and in my opinion, a better writer than either. What he seems to lack is something that a lot of clever people lack: passion. Maybe that’s why this tune and attitude sounds forced. What Zane does better than anybody is writing wry, witty, surprising, perfectly observed lyrics. He’s like Brad Paisley.
Maybe all Zane needs is a musical foil who is his equal. He’s the Chet Atkins of country lyric. Who can match him musically? Where are the Jerry Reeds of our time?
October 24, 2016 @ 3:04 pm
Good album. I have seen Zane a couple of times and he puts on a heck of a show. The first time was when he was relatively new and he opened for Alan Jackson. The other time there wasn’t many people at the show so he allowed all of us to come out and get a photo with him during the show. Very good writer, singer and all around awesome guy!!! I will have to pick it up at some point!
October 24, 2016 @ 4:05 pm
He has several songs that I think could have been hits for other artists back in the 90’s. He seems like a guy that showed up about 20 years too late. I mean, I hope the current tide keeps turning, just saying he would have fit in well as an artist, or writer during that period. I really like the song “While I Was Away” of his.
October 24, 2016 @ 4:53 pm
Quote of the year – “the new trend in country music, is actual country music.” Who would have thought? Can I use that when talking to my friends about the wonders of country music? Some of them still don’t get it.
October 24, 2016 @ 9:05 pm
Trigger, I see ZW has a CD titled ‘Snapshots’ but can’t seem to find more from him. Guess it’s time to dig a little more thorough! Thanks for the always awesome review!!!
October 25, 2016 @ 7:07 am
Check out his website. He has seven albums. “Hurry Home” (2007), “Ride with Me,” “The Right Place” (2009), “Overnight Success” (2013), “Texas Like That” (2015), “Snapshots” (2016). They’re on iTunes, Amazon, and his website.
October 25, 2016 @ 9:51 am
Love I don’t have a heart!
October 25, 2016 @ 1:40 pm
I was sold on this album from the line “We’re awful proud of our Texas daughters, they can dance to George Strait or Randy rogers.”
October 27, 2016 @ 7:36 am
I discovered Zane last year on accident when a local station spun “Jayton & Jill” on a random Saturday afternoon – among his best songs in my opinion, BTW. Goosebumps after I heard the song and I quickly had to figure out who he was and if there was more. I then bought his entire back catalog and 95 % of it is down my alley. Should be a star out on the stage or at the very least, a hit-making songwriter.