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Top hasn't "gone country"; he is country

The Sinclair, Cambridge, Mass., June 27, 2024

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Country traditionalist Zach Top had the perfect introduction as he was about to hit the stage for his sold-out show. Over the loudspeakers filtered out not some modern rock song masquerading as country, but Alan Jackson's "Gone Country." The song throws darts at those newbies who make like they're country, even though they ain't.

And with that, the eastern Washington native came out in what would be one simply fantastic showcase of a new talent to sing his first and excellent single, "Sounds Like the Radio." Wearing a cowboy hat, the mustachioed singer belted out, "Well, the day I was born the doc couldn't believe/I came out cryin' 'Chattahoochee'." Of course, that's the name of a big hit song by Jackson.

In fact, that song captured Top musically. He later sings "Sounds like the radio Back in '94, you know" and "it's a little bit of fiddle/And whole lot of country gold" and "Somethin' bout a steel guitar moaning the blues/Makes me wanna throw back a case or two/They say honky-tonk heroes go to heaven."

Bottom line is that Top is in love with '90s country music. He has nothing to do with the recent crop of country popsters by any stretch. "Sounds Like the Radio" could easily have been covered by Brooks & Dunn. And if you're in love with steel guitar from the always excellent Brett Resnick, fiddle and sounds of yesteryear, you were in luck with Top.

Top also has Dwight Yoakam flowing through his veins in more ways than one. Top played his own steely lead guitar with a whole lot of sharp twang and the shimmy shake moves of DY. Top, who grew up on bluegrass (he played what he said was a bluegrass song, but it sure sounded far more bluegrass to these ears), was no dilettante. He just lived and breathed the traditional sounds.

Top extended his band a lot of well deserved face time with surehanded drumming from Toby Caldwell and bass courtesy of Jimmy Meyer. Acoustic guitarist Cheyenne Dalton also enjoyed the spotlight, while also playing fiddle and mandolin. No need for Top to rely on electric guitar all night to make his musical statement.

He sure made a lot of them because of the course of an extremely generous 115-minute show, Top demonstrated that he has a lot of high end songs under his belt (he co-writes his songs) plus some well-chosen covers that reflected his love of country.

He did play a Chris Stapleton song ("Nobody to Blame"), although the bluesy Stapleton isn't part of mainstream Nashville either. Top also covered Merle Haggard's "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink," Shenandoah's "Two Dozen Roses," a well done cover of Lefty Frizzell's "I Never Go Round Mirrors" with help from opening act and also one-time bluegrasser Andy Buckner and the humorous wink wink "Pick Up Man" from the late Joe Diffie. While John Michael Montgomery may have been considered on the commercial side during his heyday, his and Top's take on "Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)" remain one fun, warp speed country song.

Top has his drinking songs like any country singer has without being over the top. He closed out the night with what seemed to underscore where he was coming from one last time: "All I need to keep me from losing it/Is good cold beer and country music." And with the best concert seen yet this year, Zach Top and his music were enough to make anyone feel great.

Buckner also has gone country. Like Top, Buckner was involved in bluegrass - as a member of the band Sideline. He was on the gritty side vocally with an Outlaw Country sound forming his music. The North Carolina native was most complimentary to Top with his solo acoustic half-hour set.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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