Sound — 8
The Zac Brown Band formed in Cummings, GA in 2002 - at the time essentially as a solo act, with a backing bassist and drummer while Zac Brown performed all the guitars and vocals. In 2004, the band began to take on an incarnation that more closely resembles the modern foundation of the band. In 2008, the Zac Brown Band signed with Live Nation Artists (in association with Zac's own label, Home Grown, which would later be known as Southern Ground). In the same year, the band released their debut full-length album, "The Foundation." "The Foundation" produced 5 singles, 4 of which charted at #1 on the US Country charts, and the album was certified 3x Platinum in the US "Jekyll + Hyde" is the band's fourth studio album, with 16 tracks and a runtime of 1 hour and 6 minutes. Three singles have been released for the album, "Homegrown" in January, "Heavy Is the Head" (featuring Chris Cornell) in March, and "Loving You Easy" in May. "Homegrown" has charted well on US Country charts and "Heavy Is the Head" has charted well on the US Mainstream Rock charts.
The album opens up with the track, "Beautiful Drug," which is primarily an up-tempo pop country song. There is a lot of studio processing used to utilize a lot of modern pop techniques on this track. "Loving You Easy" has a definite pop vibe to it - not necessarily a country vibe at all - with a strummed guitar and tambourine being primary instrumentation on the track, and some very polished backing vocals. "Remedy" is back in the realm of pop-country with a dash of bluegrass. The lyrical theme of the track is that "loving one another" is the remedy to the world's problems. "Homegrown" is a country rock song and is celebrating small town life and the simple things in life. "Mango Tree" is a change of direction for the album, with this being more like a crooned track (think Frank Sinatra), with guest vocals provided by Sara Bareilles. "Heavy Is the Head" opens up with some heavily fuzzed/distorted guitars and Chris Cornell on co-lead vocals. Oddly enough, even though this isn't remotely what I'm used to hearing from the Zac Brown Band, you can hear that it is them. "Bittersweet" opens up with a violin/fiddle melody that seems intended to embody the "bittersweet" emotion the title is talking about. This track is one of the most traditionally country songs on the album, if you can look past the crescendo build-up near the end of the song.
"Castaway" opens up with a mandolin, and is built around a reggae bass line and a fun mandolin and fiddle part. The whole track seems to be celebrating that whole "Salt Life" mentality of drinking on the beach. "Tomorrow Never Comes" gets a little bit into the territory of modern bluegrass, or alternative bluegrass - think Mumford & Sons. Later in the track it gets a little weird, with strong electronica elements - but it all works together, somehow. "One Day" is more of an R&B track than anything, to me, especially reminding me of both '80s and early '90s country, as well as early '90s R&B music. "Dress Blues" is the only song on the album where Zac Brown wasn't involved in the writing process, but instead it is a cover of a song written and recorded by Jason Isbell. Zac Brown's cover also has guest vocals by Jewel. "Young and Wild" is another "pop" song by the band, with the lyrics reminiscing on young love and acting wild and crazy. "Junkyard" opens up with some heavily fuzzed out guitars and uses elements of the Pink Floyd track, "Is There Anybody Out There." Actually, "Junkyard" is easily my favorite track on the album - it is a seriously strong track in the way it adds banjo and distorted guitars together. "I'll Be Your Man (Song for a Daughter)" is a sweet song written from the perspective of a dad talking to his young daughter about growing up and how he'll always be there for her. "Wildfire" opens up with some banjo and fiddle, but gets kind of interesting with a driving drum part, and incorporates elements of pop music without getting fully out of the realm of country music. The album closes out with an acoustic version of "Tomorrow Never Comes," but oddly enough the bluegrass vibe from the electrified version isn't really present on the acoustic version, and it instead comes across as purely a country song, or even potentially as a folk song.
Lyrics — 8
Zac Brown has a very solid voice, and he has a good bank of backing vocalists in his band. The guest vocals on "Jekyll + Hyde," which include Sara Bareilles, Jewel, Chris Cornell and Niko Moon, are used tastefully to add a little bit of variety to the album without becoming cliché or overdone. The lyrical content runs the gamut of themes on the album, and surprised me a few times. As a sample of some of the lyrics, here are some from the track "Young and Wild": "When I look up at the stars/ no matter where you are you're always in my heart/ when the walls are closing in/ you're the sun upon my skin/ you're always where I am/ wild child/ living in the moment/ world in my arms/ too young to know it/ oh you made me feel so alive/ we were young and wild/ had a good thing going/ but we couldn't make it/ even if I could/ I wouldn't change it/ when I look back I just smile/ we were young and wild."
Overall Impression — 8
I haven't been the biggest fan of the Zac Brown Band since the beginning, but I've had a few friends play his stuff pretty constantly and it has grown on me over time. Zac Brown has a knack for not fixating on a specific style or sound, but just trying to make good music. I don't necessarily believe that he's accomplished this every time, but more than not. My favorite tracks from the album would be "Junkyard," "Wildfire," and the acoustic version of "Tomorrow Never Comes." I would definitely recommend this album to anyone who's open to country rock or alternative country.