Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Bailey Zimmerman – Religiously

I’ve written before about copycats, the acts that follow in the slipstream of a massive, bankable star. If you know nothing about the music business, it’s equal parts music and business, which is why Morgan Wallen’s success has allowed people with similar voices to succeed.

Wallen’s tour opener Bailey Zimmerman leapt off of TikTok with his long locks, good looks and fine voice to become a chart-topper in his own right, at the behest of his label Elektra. His two number ones Fall in Love and Rock and a Hard Place are both on his 16-track debut full-length release. Both songs first appeared on last year’s nine-song EP Leave The Light On, which also featured the humongous pop/rock tune Where It Ends. Bailey wrote that one with pop writer Joe London, who also produces the successful And The Writer Is podcast.

Four of the album’s songs have been previewed in recent months, one of which is the title track which opens the album. Bailey is ‘in this cold bright light…in the back of the church’ to prove that he’s a God-fearing fella who was loved by an angel of a lady. The song is a synecdoche of the album itself, which is a very unnecessary way for me to say that Religiously is equal parts Combs – there’s fiddle, banjo and acoustic guitar – and Wallen.

We’ve also already heard Fix’n To Break (no I or G!), where handyman Bailey can fix things around the house but not a dead relationship, and the hummable break-up song Get To Gettin’ Gone (with no G). Fellow Wallen tour buddy Ernest was in the room, or on the bus, for the album’s closing track Is This Really Over (‘cos I need some closure’), which is decorated with harmonies, vocalised oohs and a delicious diminished chord in the chorus.

I just wish there were more melodies like it amongst the sludge of love songs, which all blur into one when you listen to the full album (which few people will do anyway). Bailey is ‘a wreck’ and ‘a mess’ as he can ‘forgive’ but not get over his ex on Forget About You, which has some Aldeanish guitar work. Conversely he is ‘hung up on goodbye’ on the Other Side of Lettin’ Go and sings a similar song on Chase Her, whose chorus melody and lyrics (‘dust on a dirt road’) make me think that the song was written with an uncredited algorithm.

This is another album where the lack of thematic and sonic variation can get wearisome. Sometimes love can be ‘a fire that’ll burn you if you get too close’ (You Don’t Want That Smoke, an outside write from Tucker Beathard) and there are ‘shots you can’t outrun’ and ‘a heart full of bullet holes’ (Warzone), ‘Scars from your past’ can heal, however (Pain Won’t Last), and not even Bailey’s best is good enough to keep her (Fadeaway). Why put all four of these songs on an album when just the one would do? Money, that’s why.

More happily, on wedding song Found Your Love, Bailey’s status as ‘desperado’ and ‘long lost soul’ is improved by a woman. Even an amped-up version of the folk song God’s Gonna Cut You Down – which would work well next to Blake Shelton’s God’s Country – is no reprieve after 12 very similar tracks about losing love. In any case, it’s a redundant cover because Johnny Cash’s version is unbeatable.

So what’s the point in Bailey Zimmerman? Ask Elektra Records and their annual reports. Like Priscilla Block before him, I fear Bailey is another example of a major-label bidding war leading to a creatively blah product rolled out with a (paywalled) New York Times interview. He gets to play stadiums and has a Billboard top ten tune already, so good luck to him.

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