Country singer Alex Williams has come a long way since playing biker bars, but maybe not. The 26-year-old traditionalist may still add a few to his touring calendar, but he's got that group of outlaws figured out.

"There’s definitely been a few flying bottles, but nothing that has been directed at me," Williams tells Taste of Country in a deep voice not yet broken by too much whiskey or smoke. "People yelling, 'Who’s this baby with a guitar up here?'"

Growing a beard helped, he jokes, but not really. Slowly Wiliams started to win over that easily distracted, difficult to impress audience before moving on to another one: the Nashville country music machine. Despite a massive call for country music to return to its roots, Williams says his road has been pockmarked with skeptics. The recently released Better Than Myself album is a '70s country throwback hot with searing outlaw guitar work and no-nonsense lyrics. He sounds like all the names you think he might sound like, which is part of the problem.

"Everybody is always gonna say, ‘Hey he’s trying to be Waylon Jennings' which I’m not f---in’ trying to do that," Williams says. "The long hair and the beard, the comparison is, 'Oh he’s trying to be Chris Stapleton.'"

Williams has nothing but respect and appreciation for both men. In fact, it was his grandparents' introduction to Jennings' Dreaming My Dreams album that inspired his appreciation for late-'60s and 1970s country music. That's where he parks his sound now, but classic rock and '80s hair metal also appear in his collection.

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"More Than Survival" is the song Williams suggest if you're looking to taste test his brand of country. It's a well-written celebration of the weekend that looks down on going through the motions. "Freak Flag" is best suited to introduce this classic sound to a new generation. "People are weird and so am I / Lay it all down and let your freak flag fly / No I really don't care how you get high / Lay it all down and let your freak flag fly," he sings in the chorus.

Better Than Myself features impressive lyrical depth for a country newcomer. "Few Short Miles" and "Old Tattoo" are two he says are deeply personal. The latter is about his grandfather, a complex man who died two years ago.

"He was an impersonal kinda guy ... he’s someone I wish I knew better and I wasn’t around enough to become friends with the dude really," Williams says. "All the years that I knew him it was a struggle to get to know the guy."

"I'm sorry dear grandfather, I know I've showed up late / Couldn't be beside you for your last few breaths / Stand by where you laid and tell you all the things / I forgot to say," he sings during an autobiographical second verse. "It seemed like every Christmas was the closest that we got / It was how you doing, what else is new over beers in the garage / I was always gone, I love you right or wrong." 

Big Machine Records

When asked Williams is slow to call himself an optimist, but don't try to lump him into that group of traditionalists down on modern country music, either. You'll taste a familiar realism on songs like "Hellbent Hallelujah," but he stops short of being a pessimist about his future and the future of country music.

"It seems like a lot more artists out there are coming through the cracks and doing things with integrity, which I respect," he says.

Julian Raymond discovered Williams about 18 months ago and produced his album. It's his first for Big Machine Records and seemingly came out of nowhere after a well-received weekend at CMA Fest in June. Fans and other artists are hearing the nuanced differences in his brand of country. Look for Williams to join Blackberry Smoke and Aaron Lewis on the road this October and November.