REVIEW: Zack Walther Band’s “The Westerner” is a Roots Rockin’, Bluesy, Jam of an LP

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On October 25, the Zack Walther Band will release its second full length studio album, The Westerner. (The band has also released three live albums.)“Holy pipes, Batman, that boy can sing.” Zack Walther’s voice is a beefy Zin with notes of Don Henley and a finish with just the right amount of twang. And this time out, Zach and the boys are rocking the blues with a dash of rhythm-n like they haven’t on past efforts.

The core of the band consists of Walther on vocals and guitars; Matthew Briggs on drums and sometimes guitar, vocals, and bass; and Mike Atkins, who plays some mean organ; assorted keys; and some vocals and bass as well. Matthew and Mike also get co-writing credits with Zach on several songs. David Grissom – who’s previously played with John Mellencamp and Joe Ely – adds guitar on four songs. Jeff Plankenhorn contributes some lap steel on “I’m Going Out of Your Mind,” and Tyler Cannon played bass on “Casualty.” Susan Gibson sings a duet with Walther and brings out his poppy side just a bit on “Meet in the Middle,” a song that she also co-wrote. Finally, there’s some nifty horn work on a couple of tracks from Mark L. Wilson and D. Tiger Anaya. But what I want to know is whose bringin’ that mean harmonica with the bullet mic? Unless they’re faking it with a synth, somebody deserves some cred!

Walther is a clever lyricist and knows it. It’s evident throughout this record, but never more so than the opening track DFW. In a sort of Tinder meets the blues moment, he throws around pickup lines that always end “tonight I’m down for whatever.” My favorite is “you look like a girl who never says never.” After breaking off a few good ones, he closes with “I’m all out of lines, I’m done being clever, baby tonight I’m down for whatever.” It’s cheeky.

Next up is “What Kind of Man,” the first of two tunes on this album that appeared – in somewhat different form – on the 2017 EP Get out of Your Head. Opening with Zack’s amazing voice on its own delivering the powerful line “What kind of man cowers and runs, when his whole world has come undone.” The band kicks in with a guitar tone and drum pattern that’s setting you up for something powerful. I’m not sure it quite lives up to the expectation it creates, though. It’s a fine women-done-me-wrong bluesy number, for sure. But I never quite got what he was supposed to be standing up to.

“Paying for it Now” is another song with untapped potential. There’s some great lyrics evoking a youth misspent and the repetition of that great title line. But you never really see how the singer is paying for it. It kinda feels like he’s doing pretty good.

More to my liking is “Going Out of Your Mind.” It’s got an infectious R’n’B thing going on that draws you in. And this time, the women-done-me-wrong angle takes a neat twist. You can imagine a bunch of songs like this where the singer would catalog how tough she’s making it for him and how it’s driving him out of his mind. But here, the singer’s fearing that he’s going out of her mind. Nicely done.

“When the Show Comes to Town” is a circus song with an infectious instrumental track and patented Walther lyrics about the performers, including a blind guy who’ll throw knives at you while standing on his head. It feels like the band is playing in the big top introducing the three rings. I’m usually pretty good at this kind of thing, but in this case, I can’t figure out if this is supposed to be a metaphor for something else?

Another one from Get out of Your Head, “Bad Girl” is up next. The EP version was a dirtier, swampier, distorted take on a girl we all know. The version here is a little shinier.  And Casualty carries on the main theme. Another relationship gone bad song with the juice to keep you listening.

“Meet in the Middle” is more pop than the rest of the album, making me think of “I’ll Meet You Half Way,” which was actually a damn good song all things considered. Zach and Susan Gibson sound great together. It takes a lot of guts to sing a duet with a guy who can sing like Zach. I give Susan a lot of credit.

The album ends strongly with a soaring cover of the Isaac Hayes/David Porter song “Hold on, I’m Coming” that had me thinking of Rare Earth, which is always good, and Bailey’s Light, my favorite song on the album. They’ve got a gospel, honkytonk groove going when who should drop in . . . is it, wait, yes . . . it’s Chuck Berry. It’s a sparse, repetitive lyric but in some ways the best one. It just feels real, and that amazing organ doesn’t hurt. https://www.zackwaltherband.com

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