The news is out: Zack Walther Band is bringing new and captivating musical twists to the thriving Texas music scene. It’s the next evolution of the sounds from the Lone Star State created by a new generation that’s taking the stage with some serious moxie, grounded in the best roots yet also right up to date for these times. Walther and the band have developed and now launch this artistic progression from Gruene Hall, the hallowed musical ground zero in Central Texas where such notables and innovators as George Strait, Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, Hal Ketchum, Robert Earl Keen and others have all played their way to fame. As the latest act to win a prestigious residency there, they’ve rocked the dancehall for more than a year of weekly Wednesday night shows, gathering fans and making musical waves that have already rippled across the Southwest and beyond. And now with Ambition, their debut Sustain Records album, Zack Walther Band is ready to bring the sound that’s winning over Texas to the world. It takes but a listen to hear that Ambition, audacious as the title may be, is indeed an apt statement of purpose for this band. The album is rich with the sound of a new musical generation coming into its own, and creating a style that defies easy description or categorization other than to say that it’s damned good and appealing as all get out. From a solid base of country and roots — these guys are dyed-in-the-wool Texans, after all — Walther and his group pull and thread in the best of everything: rock’n’roll from classic to the latest alternative, the tastiest pop, the finest singer-songwriters, you name it, as long as it’s quality music, it’s an inspiration. Then they indelibly stamp it with the trademark Zack Walther Band sound. Produced by fellow musician and songwriter Mark Addison, known for his production wizardry with Ian Moore, Guy Forsyth, Band of Heathens, Bob Schneider, Will Sexton and many others, Ambition lives up to its name by delivering a new Texas music for the world at large. The 10-song-strong set opens with “Georgia Cane,” the musically widescreen cinematic tale of a wild woman with irresistible appeal, and closes with a blast on the explosive rock workout “Pull The Pin,” and delivers the goods with a vengeance in between. There’s everything from the ear-catching pop-rocker “So Hard” (written by Addison, Austin progressive blues hero Guy Forsyth and Nina Singh) to the tender prayer for redemption of “Just Say When” (with harmony vocals by Jess Klein) and the stirring and soulful reflection on life’s rewards of “Money Tree,” both co-written by Walther with band member Luke Leverett, whose work on a range of guitars and keyboards brings a kaleidoscope of colors to the recording. The potency of love and passion are palpable on “Down Easy” and “Without One Sound,” while “Mountain Laurel Bloom” takes listeners for a spiritually-blessed and folk-inflected tour of the Texas Hill Country and “Tumbleweed” captures the mixed emotional bag of the life of a band on the road. Whether it’s the big picture reflections on the world we live in on “Our Corner” or those small tender moments and majestically fiery musical moves, Ambition is a record that has it all for anyone who loves great music of spirit and genuine sincerity. And Walther sings it all with a classic vocal strength and finesse full of feelings that hit anyone with a heartbeat and ear for timeless music right where they live and love music. “We wanted to make an ambitious record,” Walther explains. “I was talking with Mark about what we wanted to do. He said, so, what you want to do is make an ambitious record, right? I said, hey, ambition — that would be a great album title. It’s the light that shines on our path.” Walther had already made a mark on the Texas music scene fronting the band Roger Wilco over the course of three albums and a number of years playing throughout Texas and Oklahoma. But he knew he wanted to and could do something more, something bigger, grander and deeper, with greater breadth and musically and emotionally richer. Something that was — yes — more ambitious. So he struck out on his own and kicked, nudged and woodshedded his songwriting up to the top of his game. He landed a residency at Tavern on the Gruene in the historic restored Texas town on the edge of New Braunfels where he lives. And the response from fans, friends and the influential local Texas Music/Americana radio station KNBT told Walther he was on to something. Leverett and drummer Chris Compton eventually signed on, later followed by bassist David Pettit. A self-released EP and live album won over more followers. Then Zack Walther and the Cronkites graduated to their weekly stand at Gruene Hall where the kickers country dance to the rocking sounds and the rockers bop and music lovers of all ages and tastes have found something that touches their hearts and stirs their souls with music that’s right on time for today. Then in a bold and, well, ambitious move, when it came time to make a debut studio album, Walther went to his fans and offered them the chance to have it “executive produced by you” (with special treats from the band in return). The group’s loyalists responded heartily with contributions to help fund the recording of Ambition, a sign of just how well the band has won over its followers and admirers, making the disc not just one for the people but also by the people. Texas music business veteran Jimmy Perkins signed on as manager and inked Zack Walther Band to his Sustain Records label, and all the elements were finally in place for Walther’s — yes — ambitious goals to be achieved. After all, “I always knew I wanted to do music from an early age,” says Walther, who grew up in West Columbia, Texas. His powerful voice began its many years of training when he joined the school choir in sixth grade. An acoustic and then an electric guitar soon followed. He began to learn the craft of the musical group in a garage band (“where we just played pieces of songs,” he confesses) and then another act that played local school dances and other gigs. As a native of Southeast Texas, Walther was surrounded by country music like the great Lone Star Georges, Jones and Strait, as well as Garth Brooks and others. But it was his father’s record collection that also transported him into a wider musical world that included everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Simon & Garfunkel. “Bookends was the first record I listened to start to finish and listened to a lot. It was something that really influenced me on the craft of writing songs,” he says of Simon’s masterful talents. When he arrived at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos for college studies, music was his concentration, first majoring in the school’s prestigious Sound Recording Technology program, augmented by voice studies. He graduated with a degree in Geography, fitting for a road dog in the making. Walther’s extracurricular work was also musical. He started a dancehall band, Sanger West, with some friends from high school that “played Top 40 everything: country to rock’n’roll to rap to oldies but goodies,” he recalls. “It was a really good introduction to becoming an entertainer — being able to talk to the crowd and hold that crowd and give the music to them.” He finished out his college years playing every weekend in Roger Wilco and driving many long nights into day back to school for Monday morning classes. After college, Walther moved just down the highway to the burgeoning music community of New Braunfels and set out to transcend the country-based Texas/Red Dirt style. Leverett was the first piece in solving the puzzle of how to create something new. A fellow singer-songwriter who studied jazz and classical music at Texas Lutheran University, he’d been a fan of Roger Wilco and got to know Walther at open mike nights. Leverett suggested that he’d be the right man for the guitar job in the Cronkites even though he was primarily an acoustic player at the time. “I think I’m the first guy to realize that he was not just a country artist but really more of a mainstream pop-rock artist,” Leverett says. He fit right in and brought even further influences to augment Walther’s diverse palette of inspirations. “The records I set my watch to are by artists like Tom Waits, Richard Thompson and Radiohead.” They were soon after joined by drummer/percussionist Chris Compton, the son of a jazz bassist and band teacher Mom who plays trumpet who also attended Texas Lutheran and brings his life of musical training to the table. The newest Cronkite and final component that brought the act together is electric and upright bassist David Pettit, who hails from the Texas Panhandle and melds his country roots with later time playing blues-rock (with rising Austin star Dan Dyer in his first band) to add even more to the group’s sound. Such musicality both natural and well-schooled imbues a richness and versatility to Walther’s songs and singing, witnessed at the band’s weekly Gruene Hall stands, where they start the night acoustically and build into majestic rocking over the course of their sets. “We have the ability here to have a softer acoustic power and then go balls to the wall and leave it out on stage every single night,” notes Leverett. And Walther gives listeners and his band meaty material that everyone can sink their musical teeth into. “As I get older, I’m writing songs that are more personal and heartfelt and about love and loss and meaningful stuff,” he explains. And his goal with Ambition was to create a rich and full listening experience from start to finish. “I think the art of the album is being lost. I love to put on my iPod and listen to a whole album all the way through, especially on the road.” Do the same with this album and — trust us — you will feel it indeed. And hear music that instead of falling into any category or genre — Walther prefers to think of it as New Braunfels rock — gathers from the best of everything the group and its leader know and love themselves into something that is distinctively Zack Walther Band. They’re an American band, Texas division, falling right in between Springsteen and the E Street Band on the East Coast and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on the West Coast, while also taking Lone Star country and singer-songwriter folk to a new place and bringing rock’n’roll back home to the heart of the Lone Star State. In central Texas, Zack Walther and the Cronkites have already stirred a buzz on radio sure to spread with KNBT, named the nation’s best Americana radio station. “Over my 15 years at KNBT I’ve seen thousands of artists and know that Zack Walther is the real deal,” says the station’s General Manager, Mattson Rainer. “You always hope as a programmer to put music on the air that most people will enjoy, and he’s already a favorite with our listeners. Zack and his stellar band are a no-brainer add to KNBT’s rotation. I’m just waiting for the add date on this album… unless we just can’t wait.” And now it’s also time for the nation if not the planet to get some serious Ambition, and be inspired, charmed and ultimately satisfied by the arrival of a singer, songwriter and his band that are the future of Texas music and the best that it can be.
Edited by ampersamtha on 2 Feb 2011, 22:01
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