Zane Williams – The Right Place (Hack Circle, 2010)
There are voices that immediately announce themselves as something you’ve never heard before, there are voices that are so anonymous as to blend into the background, and there are voices like Zane Williams’ that lay in between. His singing is not immediately recognizable as a new tone or style, but there’s an excitement in his delivery that jumps off this latest record. What’s especially intriguing is how he combines the humble and direct style of someone like Bruce Robison with the honky-tonk extroversion of Robison’s brother Charlie. The Abilene-born Williams relocated to Nashville for nine years and released a string of indie albums that started to find a bit of twang with 2000’s Fast Licks and Toothpicks.
A couple of years after releasing 2006’s acoustic country Hurry Home, Williams returned to Texas and discovered his roots still intact. Together with producer Radney Foster he’s retooled himself as an electric honky-tonker, freeing himself to indulge his native twang on the roadhouse circuit through which Jack Ingram and Pat Green each found huge regional followings. Though recorded in Nashville, Foster and Williams conjure the wooden floors and neon beer signs of Texas dance halls, not least of which through Williams’ songs. The opener, “The Right Place,” offers a warm welcome from the regulars at the bar, and his incredibly clever “99 Bottles” turns the round into a tongue-twisting, thirst-quenching recitation of beer brands.
Williams’ ten originals tread tried-and-true subjects, but even there he finds some original and clever twists. The kiss-off “Tired of Being Perfect” isn’t due to cheating but the result of an overly-demanding mate, the bluesy “I Am What I Am” allows Williams to imagine other occupations as he stands firm in his commitment as a musician, and “The Cowboy and the Clown” peels away self-prescribed illusions of diminished expectations. The album closes with an original Christmas song that wipes away years of bad times with the miracle of a new baby. It’s a heartfelt (if perhaps a tad treacly) ending to a fine album that otherwise avoids the softer style Williams had developed in Nashville.