Album Review – Zac Brown Band – “Uncaged”

Zac Brown Band

Uncaged 

* * *

In four years, Zac Brown Band has positioned themselves nearly peerless among country duos and groups by crafting a fiddle heavy sound unique to their southern rock meets sandy beach brand of country music. By standing out, they’ve racked up eight number one hits in eleven singles and proven trustworthy for inventive (and sometimes emotional) lyrics framed in tasteful production.

With Uncaged, they look to expand their formula by building upon the benchmarks that have afforded them a creative license to do whatever they want. Their willingness to build from their solid foundation gives Uncaged a sense of familiarity that allows longtime fans to continue on the musical journey, while the inclusion of new sounds will allow them to grow at the same time.

There’s no better example of this growth than lead single “The Wind,” a Brown, Wyatt Durrette, and Levi Lowrey co-write that fuses the romping fiddle stylings of Charlie Daniels with the Bluegrass meets country concoction Ricky Skaggs made famous in the early 1980s. Sunny and bright, it chugs along at a breathless breakneck speed and brings the energy of their live performances to a studio recording for the first time.

“The Wind” also sets the bar extremely high for the rest of Uncaged and while the album mostly lives up to that promise, it could’ve and untimely should’ve gone much further. But that isn’t for lack of trying, as Zac Brown Band are still a welcomed ripple in the stagnant pool of plateaued ambition, even if that ambition hasn’t been fully realized yet.

The best moments on Uncaged are the ballads, which the band uses to showcase their tight harmonies, exceptional musicianship, and instinctive abilities to write a complete emotional story. Songs like “Sweet Annie,” “Lance’s Song” and “Natural Disaster” are all excellent, and some of the strongest mainstream material we’re likely to hear all year.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for  Brown and Durrette’s “Goodbye In Her Eyes.”  The lyric is wonderful, but the lack of fiddle on the first half of the song suggests a move towards a popper production, as it appears they aren’t really that country without it.

The upbeat material also gives me pause, as it fails to have an added spark and rise above mediocrity. The Brown, Durrette, and Jason Mraz co-write “Jump Right In” is too sing-a-long and the often-repated “As the Southern wind sings again an island lullaby” grows grating on repeated listenings, while “Island Song”  stands as a second rate attempt at re-creating the magic of “Toes” and “Knee Deep” but lacks their by the water freshness.

The collaborations aren’t much better as the Trombone Shorty assisted  “Overnight” borrows too heavily from jazz and reggae. “Day That I Die,” the duet with Amos Lee, sounds like we’ve heard it before; a retread from You Get What You Give.

But the weakest spots on the whole project should’ve been some of the album’s strongest. The title track is an unnecessary rock screamer that leans much to heavily on aggression to tell its story and Mac McAnally’s “Last But Not Least” starts off excellent but descends into a bizarre free-form vocal mixture that sounds both random and out of place.

Uncaged adds up to less than the sum of its parts because the songs ultimately fail to excite the listener while the lack of welcomed surprises leaves Uncaged feeling very caged in.

After the excellent first single, I had extremely high expectations for the overall sound and musical quality of this project and I’m not afraid to say they let me down. The dabbling in other genres through the collaborations and island themed songs seemed out of character from the band that brought us “As She’s Walking Away.”

I totally understand an artists need to grow, but why can’t some mainstream country act just do it within their own genre? Is that too much to ask?


Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: