The backbone is part of the framework of the body, and as a carpenter by trade, Zachariah Red, knows about the importance of framework. On his aptly titled new album, Backbone (out Jan. 15), he frames the album with a solid mix of Midwestern country, heartland rock and roll, and solid songwriting skills that he has sharpened to a fine point during his time in East Nashville.
Backbone features the aforementioned strong songwriting, along with effective production and solid supporting players. On “Let You Down,” a piano and solid background vocals from red hot Nashville singer-songwriter Lindsay Ellyn builds upon the framework of the song, creating an emotionally powerful statement. Neither Red nor Ellyn are originally from the South, but this is more pure country music than anything being made on the border between Georgia and Florida.
“My City” is a rocker that brings to mind Springsteen and Mellencamp. The wall of sound-style production (the album was engineered by Zack Zink and produced by Taylor Alexander and Tim Ryssemus) is happy surprise in contrast to Red’s often spare songs. “Sons of Sons” is a solid toe-tapping country rock song, and the album’s first single, “40 Miles,” is the kind of song you want to play loud while driving down a country road with nowhere in particular to go. Throughout it all, Red is backed by an outstanding cast of players and singers that includes the album’s two producers and Ellyn plus Drew Kohl and drummer Raun Shultz.
In addition to making up a framework, the backbone is often used as a symbol of strength and courage. Many of the characters in Red’s songs are deeply flawed individuals, and yet song after song their strength and courage shine through. It takes a special measure of courage and strength to push forward in the face of one’s own shortcomings and failings. This kind of courage is often downplayed by society, but it may be the most important and most common kind.
“Achilles” and “The Bottle” both represent this strength and courage in the face of adversity — even adversity brought on by one’s own poor decisions. Fortunately all of the poor decisions on Backbone are contained in the songs and characters. The album itself is solid — an excellent representation of one of East Nashville’s most talented songwriters.