I’d never heard of Zac Brown Band until they appeared on the Foo Fighters Sonic Highways series. But according to that, Zac Brown is massive in America, playing to massive crowds in massive, sold out venues. That got me a little interested. But it took a tweet from Jason Isbell about them covering one of his songs that made me know I needed to give Zac Brown Band a go. Which is exactly what I did with Uncaged.
Things start on shaky ground. With a weird combination of calypso rhythms, country fiddles and impeccable harmonies, Jump Right In sounds like the worst kind of middle of the road, corporate, safe music in existence. But Uncaged immediately improves with the title track. It’s just as polished and impeccable, but it has so much more life to it. While Jump Right In sounds like it was written by a computer, you can actually hear real people with heartbeats behind Uncaged.
My love of punk rock has always made me a little suspicious of bands or musicians a little too proficient with their instruments. I guess I find it hard to accept that someone could be that technically good, and still have a flare for pure creativity. I know it’s an unfair, unfounded accusation, but they seem antithetical. And I am reminded of how unfair and unfounded it is whenever I hear bands like Zac Brown Band and songs like Goodbye In Her Eyes. Every single aspect of this song is polished and preened to absolute perfection, without ever taking away the personality behind it.
Get ready to kick up your heals with the fiddlin’, pluckin’, boot scootin’ of The Wind. The kind of song that could easily slip into country parody, if not at the hands of this band that I’m liking more and more with each song. And then comes the shit bomb, white guy reggae of Island Song. So terrible, it almost pisses away all the good will built up by the songs that precede it.
But Unchained bounces back in style, country music style, with Sweet Annie and Natural Disaster. Two songs that make me realise I like Zac Brown Band most when they embrace their country roots and run with it. The biggest disappointments with this album are the moments of genre hopping. An opinion supported by the pseudo R n’ B syrup of Overnight.
Unchained proves that Zac Brown Band is a great country band who embrace their classic country roots. It also proves that they’re a pretty terrible band when they try to move out of that comfort zone. And when they’re that good at what they do well, I would have no problem at all with them staying in that comfort zone at all times.