Illinois native Bailey Zimmerman first burst onto the country music scene via TikTok, before finding success with his singles ‘Fall In Love’ and ‘Rock And A Hard Place’ and being nominated for New Male Country Artist of the Year at the ACM Awards. He released his debut EP, ‘Leave The Light On’, in October last year, reaching the Billboard top 10 in the US. Now he’s back with the full length follow up, ‘Religiously. The Album.’
The 16-track project opens with the title song (which is also Zimmerman’s current single), and right from the off it feels very different compared to a lot of other music out there. There’s a real emphasis on the twangy guitars as well as some rockier touches, and I loved the depth and drawl in Zimmerman’s vocal as well. However, what really stood out to me was the songwriting – it’s brutally raw and honest, with tons of detail like Zimmerman thinking he’d marry the girl in the song after seeing her play guitar, and makes you absolutely convinced by the story by the end.
There’s often an element of circling back in the songwriting on this record, which I particularly like as it gives the whole thing a sense of unity and being joined up. The stripped-back ‘Warzone’ is an early example of this, with vivid imagery of a ‘heart full of bullet holes’ over sharp chords and shot effects, which Zimmerman later echoes in the battle references of the stark ‘Where It Ends’ which features a defiant chorus and classic rock guitar riff. Meanwhile, there’s a lyrical motif of trying to repair what’s broken linking the driving ‘Fixin’ To Break’, where Zimmerman shows off the belt in his vocal, and ‘Rock And A Hard Place’ which jams a huge amount of storytelling into just two chorus lines and some absolutely standout wordplay (‘red wine and mistakes’ is a lyric for the ages). In a world where often artists are throwing out hugely long albums in a bid to reach streaming services, there’s something refreshing about this approach and you can tell Zimmerman and his team put a lot of thought into how the album’s been structured – it really does reward sitting down and listening through.
For me one of the standout sections comes around the midpoint of the album, kicking off with Zimmerman’s breakthrough track ‘Fall In Love’. As well as his eye for detail such as mentioning his ex taking the old 4runner he bought her to South Carolina, what really struck me was the bite in his delivery. There’s an almost simmering undercurrent of not-dealt-with anger towards the song’s subject, and his powerful vocal on the chorus captures that feeling incredibly well. Next track ‘You Don’t Want That Smoke’ almost feels like the comedown from that, with a lushness from the strings and a sense of being in a barroom getting words of advice and knowing full well you’ll ignore them anyway. I also loved the subdued, regretful ‘Chase Her’ with its raspy yet brittle vocal, as well as the cinematic yet punchy ‘Forget About You’ (featuring Zimmerman almost rapping in places and images of bare feet and dark pine trees), the yearning ‘Other Side Of Lettin’ Go’ and his stomping version of ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’ with its wailing guitar riff.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom here. ‘Found Your Love’ highlights the gravel in Zimmerman’s voice with its simple arrangement and oddly sweet lyrics, which give the song a heartfelt feel and tie it back to the thread of openness running through the album. Elsewhere, ‘Pain Won’t Last’ shows his optimistic side before building into a rock vibe that’s going to show incredible at live shows, whilst ‘Fadeaway’ balances a bright, lively melody with kiss-off lyrics and a soaring chorus.
Zimmerman closes the album with ‘Get To Gettin’ Gone’, a look back at being torn between settling down and chasing one’s dreams. It’s a softer approach compared to many of the other tracks and I liked the smooth quality in his voice as well. He follows that with ‘Is This Really Over?’ (see what I mean about thinking about structure?), which has a more lonesome, mellow vibe about it and almost brings in some pop touches. It’s a really intriguing way to end the record and shows that he definitely isn’t a one-trick pony.
Overall Bailey Zimmerman has delivered a really strong debut album with a distinctive sound and a wisdom beyond his 23 years. It’s thoughtful and authentic, laced with classic rock and soul elements, as well as his standout rough vocals and incredibly detailed, vivid songwriting. He’s really put his own stamp on the whole thing and personally if this is the start of his journey, then I can’t wait to hear where he’ll go next. Now fingers crossed for some UK tour dates to be announced soon please!
Track listing: 1. Religiously 2. Warzone 3. Fix’n To Break 4. Forget About You 5. Chase Her 6. Fall In Love 7. You Don’t Want That Smoke 8. Found Your Love 9. Rock And A Hard Place 10. Other Side Of Lettin’ Go 11. Pain Won’t Last 12. Where It Ends 13. God’s Gonna Cut You Down 14. Fadeaway 15. Get To Gettin’ Gone 16. Is This Really Over? Record label: Warner Music Nashville/Elektra Release date: 12th May 2023