Before he found success as a member of the Americana trio The Lone Bellow, singer-songwriter Zachary Williams made his bones as a solo performer. He put in hard times singing in bars in New York City, where he was not even shown the courtesy of having the basketball game turned down. In 2009, he managed to scrape things together to record and release an album on a shoestring budget, and the printing contained not one but two typos.
During his set at the Miracle Theater on Tuesday evening, the similarity of his name to Christian artist Zach Williams was a bit of a running gag. When he discussed that first solo record, Zachary mentioned that Spotify has misplaced under that other Zach. He also brought up Zach’s recent duet with Dolly Parton, and someone in the audience joked, “Living vicariously!” Zachary wryly observed, “Living vicariously, indeed. He’s a Christian artist, so God only knows what he has to put up with.”
If you blink, you could miss the remarkable flash of empathy Zachary revealed. This other Zach Williams is causing him some real headaches, even if not intentionally, and he’s getting to work with Dolly. A certain degree of irritation would be a natural reaction, but, instead, Zachary’s response is, “What bullshit does this guy have to deal with?”
Songwriting is all about empathy, and Zachary’s empathy makes him a great songwriter. At The Miracle Theatre on March 29, this was most apparent in “Fake Roses,” which he wrote about his mother-in-law, a nurse who worked on the night shift, who recently passed away. He shared the broad outlines of how she and her sister — a fellow nurse — helped each other get themselves out of some very toxic relationships.
Watch the official music video for “Fake Roses” by The Lone Bellow on YouTube:
The way Zachary sang is all about bringing empathy and understanding to the song. When his backing band left the stage, he performed an acoustic cover of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me” that dug deep into the pathos of the lyrics and really brought out some of the deeper feelings that the more buoyant version we’re all familiar with can obscure a little.
This tour came behind a new solo album, Dirty Camaro, and much of the setlist was drawn from that record: “Airplane,” which opened the show, “Anything,” “Can’t Tell The Difference,” “Elizabeth,” “Her Picture,” “Game for Guessing,” and the title cut, which he played as the penultimate song of the set. He also included “James” from that first solo recorded I mentioned, as well as a couple of songs he does with the Lone Bellow, “Walk Into A Storm” (which he performed on request) and “Revival,” which closed the show.
Throughout the set, Zachary was accompanied by opener Early James on electric guitar and his band. Early is a very promising young artist from Alabama who plays a distinctively psychedelic Americana with lots of twang and some echoes of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s swamp rock. (I did some reading on the man, and while he has talked about a number of other contemporaneous influences, Fogerty wasn’t mentioned.) Talking about the set afterwards, someone commented on how the lyrics don’t go where you think they’re going, and that’s absolutely write: he manages to surprise you. He has a great sound, and he has really interesting compelling songs. I’m definitely not the only one who’s been impressed, as he’ll be opening for the Black Keys later this year.