Zach Russell had to break a tired old proverb on his way to making his debut album, Where the Flowers Meet the Dew: He moved out of Nashville seven years into the 10-year town, returning home to eastern Tennessee in 2018. He released his first EP, The Creek, in 2021, and earlier this year signed with Thirty Tigers for his debut.
Produced by Chattanooga’s Kyle Crownover, who also produced Adeem the Artist’s sublime White Trash Revelry (ND review), Where the Flowers Meet the Dew’s 10 songs explore reincarnation, joy, and 21st-century romance via traditional country waltzes and psych-folk rock songs alike. Throughout, Russell sings with all the grace befitting a former karaoke host and current lapsed Baptist, landing somewhere between the flourish of Chris Stapleton and the grit of Sturgill Simpson.
Opening with the interconnected pair “What You Want Comes to You” and “I Thought I Was the Trees,” Russell introduces himself as a back-home mystic, proclaiming to the trees he’s known that he’s not afraid to die. He strums and sings idyllically of manna on “Milk and Honey,” savvily pairing “hot damn” with “Jesus Christ” while a steel guitar fills the space between.
At first, “Take Me Back to Tennessee” feels like another wistful and wide-eyed country waltz about a mythical youth and the land that held it. The track winds up as less of an out-and-out ode to his home and more of a command to some future self to always return there, in the end. While guitars swell and fall, Crownover allows organist Mr. Jimmy Rowland to supply all the Sunday morning you might want.
Russell saves all his frontman swagger for the second half of the album, beginning fittingly with “Born Again,” a seven-minute spaced-out psych-country romp. Russell lets the band loose here, and Crownover celebrates the resultant mischief, allowing for rising Knoxville guitarist Jake Smith to stretch out and run over this fuzzy new-age hymn.
From the synth-pop snare drum of “Playing House” to the neotraditional wry country humor of “Playing House” and “Back to Dirt,” Russell showcases the true range of his sonic ambitions. On the latter tune, Russell preaches that “God’s copy and pasting / reincarnation / It all comes back around.”
With “Nothin’ to Haul,” he calls out all the faux cowboys driving lift-kit trucks, listening to country radio, and forever propping up Nashville’s Music Row.
There’s a man on every street
With a dip in his cheek and a toothpick in his teeth
Jamming a song about Alabama
By a dude from Santa Ana
Man he’s almost got the accent down
Where the Flowers Meet the Dew is the rare debut album that’s sincere all the way through, made up of songs about muscadine wine and stones in the river getting “bowled over” until they’re only just slivers. Russell longs to live in a world where you can earnestly miss your papaw and even unironically imagine a lover “that puts on Maybelline.” There’s an awful lot of self-reflection here for a first album, and that’s Russell’s greatest achievement on Where the Flowers Meet the Dew: singing impassioned country songs that feel at once uniquely modern and conventionally timeless.
Where the Flowers Meet the Dew is out Dec. 1 via Thirty Tigers.