Seemingly following the Morgan Wallen model of maximizing his image as a country star fit for the streaming and social media age, Bailey Zimmerman is both 7 years younger and doesn’t feel the need to overstuff his album with 36 tracks to rack those numbers up – two wins in my book. After breaking onto the scene with an EP containing the two megahits “Fall In Love” and “Rock And A Hard Place,” Zimmerman’s debut album arrives to add fourteen more tracks to the original two that made him a Nashville household name. And despite the lack of some of Tennessee’s finest lending their writing talents to the project like some of his contemporaries, it seems that Zimmerman himself has mastered the kind of clever lyrical twists, personalized buzzwords to keep returning to and everyman relatability that many of them are thriving on on his own. While his vocals aren’t going to blow your mind and 16 tracks that mostly focus on the very specific topic of Zimmerman dreading the feeling of a relationship nearing its natural end get a little repetitive and tiresome, there are a couple gems that shine through offering promise if he ever wanted to veer from the country algorithm machine.
The project opens with its title track and Zimmerman’s latest single, and it doesn’t seem like it was the greatest choice on first glance as it has some mixing issues that aren’t present on the other tracks here. The instrumental feels oddly quiet, making Zimmerman’s relatively basic melody sound robotic and stilted without enough support behind it – something that he doesn’t help with a couple lines that don’t quite fit rhythmically. It does, however, preview his writing abilities when the bridge has some fun with the lyrical theme of religion as he speaks about the highs and lows of a former relationship. “Warzone” keeps this up throughout the entire song with war imagery, and also finds Zimmerman reaching up to some impressive high notes. The world of the song is built out further by exploding bombs in the back and a roaring guitar solo, the background not as static as your typical country tune with some added motifs popping in throughout. “Forget About You” is another track in the early goings that continues to prove Zimmerman’s strengths are more likely to come out when he indulges in heavier material – with some louder power chords in the back, more of a rock edge, and a nice halftime breakdown in the chorus as he reels about a sudden breakup that he can’t quite get over, the track stands out amongst the rest. “Fix’n to Break” is another single that doesn’t quite stand up – it’s more generic instrumentally and has a bit of a sleepy melody, so it’s all up to the lyricism once again to carry, and carry it sometimes does. As Zimmerman asks his partner to tell him straight up whether he should continue putting in the effort to mend things, he compares it to a house in shambles with a variety of plays on words.
Most of the tracks on this project don’t have a ton to excite anyone who isn’t a massive country fan, but enough for those people to nod their head and not recoil away from a genre that they might be less favourable towards. Tracks like “Chase Her” and “Found Your Love” in the first half keep up the competence with familiar themes – Zimmerman tells us he was a raucous party-starting outlaw until finding his perfect match on the latter, for example – and instrumentals delivered by an earnest new voice, but mostly come across as copy-paste radio songs. As far as radio songs go, however, “Fall in Love” genuinely has to be one of the best mainstream country singles in years. Every part of the melody is a hook all to itself and Zimmerman’s ability to breathlessly breeze through some of the speedier syllables makes the track all the more human and believable – he truly sounds like he’s frantically trying to give listeners a warning about the dangers of love before anybody else gets hurt. With some eerie minor-key vibes and some specific stories about how Zimmerman was done dirty, it almost feels like a male “Before He Cheats” swapping gold-digging for infidelity. “You Don’t Want That Smoke” is another standout in the early goings. The facts that the central pun comes from hip-hop culture and the love to drugs metaphor has been done to death are actually made up for by Zimmerman’s emotional performance. Talking about the relationship leaving you in the ash as the strings swell on the quieter tune, “take it secondhand from a fool who knows” might be the cleverest lyric on the whole album.
Since the project was a long time coming and it’s loaded with singles, by the time you get to the end it almost starts to seem like the label makes him release his safest material to the radio waves. You can tell how much effort was put into “Where It Ends” by the end of its first verse as lines begin to rhyme with themselves – it also sounds like a watered-down “Fall In Love.” While “Rock and a Hard Place” isn’t quite as compelling as his other massive smash, it definitely has an anthemic, soaring chorus that makes me want to sing “that’s when I lost it, midnight in Austin” with a crowd of thousands and an engaging solo. In between these two singles on the tracklist are “Other Side of Lettin’ Go,” another generic one full of car puns and exhaustion starting to set in as Zimmerman belts the name of another American state in the chorus, and “Pain Won’t Last,” one that’s extremely well-written and structured. There’s something special about the way the melody drops down and picks us back up with a little swell as Zimmerman is trying to encourage us to keep going when we’re at our lowest, emoting on some cathartic final notes.
Throwing it near the end, Zimmerman actually takes on a traditional tune from the 40s here in “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” Adding some bass in his voice to make it appropriately menacing as he warns wrongdoers of divine wrath, this one more than any shows that his vocal range is pretty outstanding. “Get to Gettin’ Gone” is the last bright spot on the project with one of the stronger choruses, but the repetitive nature of the instrumentals certainly begins to wear by the end as “Fadeaway” feels particularly undercooked and things close out with “Is This Really Over?” – and your mileage for a bright and chipper tune at the very end as Zimmerman tries to win her back may vary at this point.
Feeling relatively similar to when Morgan Wallen first started making waves, we’ll see if Zimmerman’s career follows a similar trajectory, or if he’ll become a bit more of a Luke Combs figure who doesn’t seem to be playing the game quite so hard. For now, there’s something here to keep watch on.
Favourite Tracks: Fall In Love, Forget About You, Pain Won’t Last, You Don’t Want That Smoke
Least Favourite Track: Fadeaway