Zach Schmidt released his sophomore album last week. How many of us would like to “borrow” Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit (Jimbo Hart, Chad Gamble, Derry DeBorgia, and Sadler Vaden) to record an album? That is exactly what Schmidt did with Raise a Banner. Isbell himself even makes an appearance on Raise a Banner’s opening track, “Forgone Conclusion.” With the 400 Unit backing him, and Sadler Vaden producing the record at Nashville’s Creative Workshop, Schmidt knocks it out of the park the second time around!
Raise a Banner opens up with the rocking “Foregone Conclusion” featuring Isbell on electric guitar. It’s a rollicking, rocking number which introduces to us to the voice that is Schmidt. If this one doesn’t get your foot tapping, you may want to check your pulse! Schmidt vocal stylings, more than his actual voice brings a lot of other great voices to mind while listening.
“Go My Way” plays like a Byrd’s’ song out straight out of a time warp from around 1965. Freddy Fender shows up for a few moments in “I Look Different Through Your Eyes.” A voice that is absolute honey, and Mike Ness gritty at the same time, it is so easy to get caught up in the entirety of Raise a Banner and equally lost in it as Zach moves from rockabilly to crooner and back again. The comfort he illustrates in his own voice and skin as he takes us on the journey with him puts his versatility on full display.
The title track is a great country blues dirge that raises a bar in addition to a banner. It’s another vocal showcase, although where other songs on the album have vocal stylings that put me in mind of some great singers, this one is 100% pure Zach Schmidt and 100 proof!
The early released single off the album is “I Can’t Dance’,” a love song for all of us who have that special dancing partner with whom we share our dances and journey. “I can’t dance the night away, if I ain’t got you.”
“I Look Different Through Your Eyes’ continues the love as Schmidt pines, “I pray the outcome suits me fine, tomorrow you’ll be mine. I look different through your eyes” to the woman who sees past his faults. “You’re Still on My Mind” swings the pendulum in the opposite direction as he “Learns to live without you, but you’re still on my mind’ as he pines for the love lost. But it’s simply too pretty a song to be singing about love lost.
“Lost All Company” asks the question: “What happens to a loving heart that’s lost all company?” Another song much too pretty to be about such a sad string of events. “It’s four months to go to winter, she won’t ever see the fall” is just one more example of how strong Schmidt’s songwriting prowess truly is, rivaled only by his voice. “Now it’s the long half of November, where the ground starts to freeze, and it took those men all they had to lay you down a couple feet. And I’ll never will remember what the priest did say, it’s hard enough just to leave, so what’s the difference anyway?” In this heartbreaker that details that moment in life we never want to think about, let alone experience.
If ZZ Top and Dire Straits had a love child, it would be Zach Schmidt’s “Concrete Dreams”! You listen to this one the first time and you’ll know what I am saying. “Sleeping Bag” mixed with ‘Money for Nothing’ with a voice that is all Mr. Zach Schmidt.
My favorite track on the album is “Burn Out Easy”: “I can’t sleep, my mind is running wild, like a little baby child, I squirm in my seat. And my head’s a mess, I’m full of all this stress, so I give a little less to everyone I meet.” How does someone I have never met describe my life to a tee? That’s the beauty of Zach Schmidt! He’s everyman with his lyrics, whether it’s “Burn Out Easy” or one of the other songs on Raise a Banner, you are going to find at least one song that hits your life where you are at the moment you are listening to the album.
The deeper I got into Raise a Banner, the more impressed I became with Zach Schmidt, the songwriter, the singer, the musician as a whole.
I love discovering new (to me) artists, especially when they are this caliber. To say Raise a Banner made an impact on me is an understatement, and that is what great music, great albums and great music should do. Zach Schmidt not only raises a banner with this release, he raises the bar for 2021 releases and it’s only April! Now I have to go find his first album, 2016’s The Day We Lost The War to tide me over while I wait impatiently for album number three.