Its a big week for great, late additions to the year in 2016 albums. This week alone Shovels & Rope releases “Little Seeds” (review here), Glen Phillips has a new album, Hiss Golden Messenger drops “Heart Like a Levy” and this record from one of our favorite badass Nashville songwriters, Zach Schmidt, finally gets thrown out into the world for all to hear. I have been living with this record for a quite some time now and I am truly excited for it to be gobbled up by the general public and leave them with a warmth in their chest, burning like a shot of whiskey and leaving you with that melancholia that only the cry of a pedal steel can grace you with. “The Day We Lost The War” is one of my favorite records of the entire year and the man behind the songs is a performer like not many others I have come across and a songwriter that pours his heart out under a two stepping backbeat and gives you a reason to move while you feel the words he has penned.
Rather than a typical overview review we will give you a play by play in each track. It isn’t often a record comes along where each and every song is solid as a rock. Any one of these might be “the single” and there is a variety of emotion and feeling baked into each track, making it a collection that has movement and flow. It is a ride, an experience, a glimpse into Schmidt’s life and character and boy, is it a trip.
Schmidt’s “The Day We Lost The War” has tinges and flavors of classic country that really rocks and shakes and they waste no time getting right into that vibe with the title track. The tubey grooving sound from the pedal steel and the acoustic guitar notes ringing underneath a swirling cascade of noises emulating county barroom sadness and distress that just digs right to the heart every time. The lead in riff sets the tone, and sets it hard. There are gonna be some hard hitting songs on this album both in thematic tenor and lyrical content as well as tantalizing telecaster tones and solos. It is classic. Its what people talk about when they claim “save country music”. Country music doesn’t need to be fucking saved, Schmidt is keeping the thing alive right here.
“Waitin on Me” keeps the weeping steel sounds moving. It brings things down a bit from the first tune, but it really rolls in a way, up and down, that carries the listener like the line “let the waters rise / and carry me”. The echoing reverb of slow guitar notes waltz gently beneath his voice. The tune has a real swimming kind of a feeling to it. Like you dove head first into the reverb tank and your head is just straight floating there. There is a sensitive and vulnerable quality to the song. The songwriter really lets folks in here. You relate to the plight and struggles, and for me, thats an important experience to have with music.
Of the bunch, “Company Man”, is a tune that I find the most relatable in a way and I think the way the world is today the general population can as well. The plague of the work day and how it often seeps into our minds and dreams even before we have to rise and live it all over again. The plodding pluck of the guitar drives this one along, steady and true. There is a line that he delivers with an almost sarcastic laugh after the instrumental break “it was a Saturday, when she went away / she slithered through the pines” that is endearing as all hell. It gives me a sense of meaning through his eyes…this means something to the writer and therefore, I feel it too. Schmidt says that he “wrote about growing up in a blue-collar town like Pittsburgh, the rust-belt town where the jobs are scarce. This song started when I was working a full-time at a job I hated and tried to play music full time as well”
“Dear Memphis” picks things back up and moves them along. A waterfall of notes and sweeping steel sounds. The female harmony parts on this one especially get me. The interplay between verses and stories cut deep. I fucking love this song. The female perspective verse gives me chills, that voice is just the perfect complement. I’ve seen the song performed live with and without a female part and it just crushes me to hear the back and forth “hypothetical” love letter in song form. The most shocking thing is that this was the first tune Schmidt ever penned. I suppose if my first song was as great as this, I would keep at it hard. The song itself was written for his friend Tom, “who I worked with on a cattle ranch. He was away from his wife for long stretches of time, but would write her letters daily, always penning them ‘Sincerely, I Love You.’ This song was meant to be a letter back and forth from Tom to his wife.”
There are two records this year that I would say are the best of the entire year. Ones that make you question ‘what makes a song great versus good?’ In the end I think its the conviction and attitude that the singer pours into their craft. Schmidt lives in these songs. And that my friends is something that can’t be faked or replicated. That is some special shit. This is one of the best records released this year.
“The Day We Lost The War” is out tomorrow, October 7th. If you haven’t already pre-ordered you can and should. You can thank me later…