Zach Williams should probably release a live album for every tour that he goes on. His particular dusty blend of classic rock and country music is just meant to be experienced live in the sort of places that your feet stick to the floor halfway through the show. With a barrelhouse voice and a deep sense of what the crowd wants, Williams is a deceptively canny songwriter and performer, yet with a humble attitude and heart for ministry.
Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater is a full-fledged live album (unlike his last live release, the too-short Survivor: Live From Harding Prison - EP) that ebbs and flows like a great concert setlist should. The walloping "Big Tent Revival," from his latest album A Hundred Highways, sets the tone for a rowdy-yet-reverent night. With a stomping rhythm and a great rousing chorus, the song is an excellent choice for both an opening number and a call to worship in a distinctly classic rock way (I dig that wailing saxophone!). The anthemic and convicting "Less Like Me" follows suit as a great follow-up song that rocks hard with a horn section and a terrific chorus. The radio favorite "Old Church Choir" rounds out a great start to the setlist. And for a genre that often lately features songs of bravado, Williams' humility and heart for Jesus shine bright in the lyrics to "Less Like Me": "Oh, I have days I lose the fight / Try my best but just don't get it right / Where I talk a talk that I don't walk And miss the moments right before my eyes /Somebody with a hurt that I could have helped Somebody with a hand that I could have held / When I just can't see past myself / Lord, help me be / A little more like mercy, a little more like grace / A little more like kindness, goodness, love, and faith / A little more like patience, a little more like peace / A little more like Jesus, a little less like me."
Other highlights - among many - include the soulful "There Was Jesus," which, although it's missing the iconic vocals of Dolly Parton, still features a wonderful female vocal counterpoint to Williams' gruff, soulful delivery and celebrates the constant presence of the Savior in our lives, especially in those moments "we couldn't see it." The slow burn "Heart Of God" is the sort of song the country needs to hear heading into an election year when all sorts of off-the-wall statements are made in the name of God: "'Cause there's only love in the heart of God / No room for shame in His open arms / There's beauty from ashes, so come as you are / And there's only love in the heart of God."
The best overall concert moment may be the swinging "Jesus' Fault," a barroom tune that has a bit more grit and grime live than the recorded version does (courtesy of a soulful harmonica and wicked slide guitar), and a great opening lyric: "That Bible by the bed ain't a coaster no more / It's still got some rings from the bottles before / But that red letter mercy put an end to my thirsty / That Bible by the bed ain't a coaster no more."
By the time the familiar first line of "Chain Breaker" rolls around towards the end of the setlist, the crowd is thoroughly warmed up, and the singing of this now iconic song is a terrific way to go out. Williams and his fantastic band are worth seeing in whatever city you may have to travel to. But until that time, Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater is a fantastic way to enjoy the sort of wonderful, Spirit-filled night that live music and ministry can weave together.- Review date: 7/20/23, written by Alex Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Provident / Sony
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