Zac Brown Band’s much anticipated 3rd album “Uncaged” has finally been unleashed. They are a band known for pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a “Country Act”. As Zac himself jokes about “Uncaged” “It’s your basic country Southern rock-bluegrass-reggae-jam record”.
I’d also add pop, RnB and prog rock into the list of genres that ZBB confidently experiment with on this new record.
As much as that might make it sound like this album is suffering from a major identity crisis, it isn’t. Somehow they manage to spread their musical tent far and wide, but still retain the heart, soul and character of who they are as a group.
Throughout this album, the bands sophisticated, trademark vocal harmonies and Zac’s outstanding lead vocals are the consistent thread that ties this record together.
They kick things off with the aptly titled “Jump Right In”, and indeed from the first joyful chord, that is exactly what you want to do.
Zac sings “You could jump right in, Let the music pull you in and jump right in, You could loose yourself again… ”
This is a song to lift your spirits. I can also hear it sitting comfortably on radio playlists nationwide. It’s one of the strongest album openers I have heard in a long time and I imagine it being a massive hit for the band in the coming months. The upbeat summer tune beckons you to take a drive on a hot day with the roof down just to soak up the sun. “Jump Right In” shows the band’s ear for melody and a pop sensibility which is second to none.
They shift gears somewhat and move into a progressive rock sound on the title track for the record “Uncaged”. You can hear Zac’s 60′s/70′s influences channeling through him here. This song would have been perfect played live on the main stage at Woodstock in 1969. The band’s accomplished musicianship is more than apparent on this track. You can hear them letting loose and really having a fun with the arrangements. Uncaged showcases the “band” element of the Zac Brown Band.
Returning to their comfort zone with the captivating “Goodbye in her eyes” this where they sound completely at home. This song is haunting and compelling with a straightforward story that’s universally understood… You get to hear a tenderness in Zac’s voice as he delivers the lines,
“I could tell that it was over, when her lips met mine”
Zac’s vocals on this song are jam packed with emotion, right from the opening line. The band doesn’t in any way distract but rather enhances and supports Zac’s delivery of this stunning ballad. It brings to mind the old saying that sometimes “The song sings the singer”
But before you have time to relax too much, the band explode into their most country (and by far the fastest and most energetic) track on the album. The band refer to this track as a “Barn Burner”. In case anyone was concerned they were straying too far from the country genre this should put all minds to rest.
That being said however, the one and only song that for me that really sounds out of place on this album is “Island Song”. Zac performs this genre crossing jam with a faux Jamaican accent, that comes across as far too contrived for my tastes. That coupled with a Reggie groove and lightweight lyrics makes for a deviation too far from the heart of who Zac Brown Band are at their best.
This album more than redeems itself on the next track as it goes from, in my opinion, the weakest song on the album, right into its most shining moment. “Sweet Annie”has all the marks of a classic song that will stand the test of time. Zac has hit on his very own “Desperado” or “The Weight” and this is a song that will be around for many years to come.
Natural Disaster flows on seamlessly on from “Sweet Annie”. It starts with a growling Hammond organ underpinning the silky voices of ZBB. The drums kick in with an energy that reveals a track akin to British counterparts Mumford and Sons, and we are all right back in that barn with a whiskey in our hands.
Another stylistic deviation is “Overnight”. There is nothing wrong with this song per say but again it feels distinctly out of place with the overall feel of the album. It just sounds like its got lost from another album and somehow found its way onto this one.
After this they return once again to the Zac Brown Band sound we know and love and there are no more deviations from now until the end of the record. “Lance’s song” is a gentle mid tempo, classic country number complete with fiddle, peddle steel and banjo.
“That day I die” follows a similar path, full of musical hooks and excellent vocal performances. Here is Zac reflecting on his life message and how it is inextricably tied to music.
“I believe that I was born with a song inside of me”
He duets on this song with the incredibly talented Amos Lee. This duet is seamless and the two voice blend beautifully.
The album closes once again with an appropriately titled “Last But Not Least”. A Song to a wife or girlfriend who has to cope with a man in demand. This is a song that serves to remind us that these boys might wander into some musical pastures new but they also know where there bread is buttered and they always return home to that classic country sound.