Thursday, May 7, 2015

Zac Brown Band "Jekyll & Hyde" Album Review

     One of the best and most consistent bands of the past decade has been the Zac Brown Band. Even though they do not claim to be exclusively a country band, they have released some of the best country music in the mainstream world. Zac was a chubby, bearded everyman with a beanie and a Carhartt. He looked the part and sang the part. Country fans tired of the glitz and glam were attracted to the understated demeanor and average Joe appeal of the Zac Brown Band. Their latest release, Jekyll & Hyde, promised some new horizons for the group. Little did fans know that they were getting disjointed and misguided mess that would alienate a large portion of their fan base.

      No doubt about it, Jekyll & Hyde marks a turning point for the Zac Brown Band. Gone are the days of average Joes. Zac lost a lot of weight (good for him, seriously), ditched the Carhartt for a hipster vest, and lost the beanie for a plethora of top hats and fedoras. Zac went from looking like a lumberjack to a gypsy overnight. The gypsy mantra fits the new sound, because like the group of the same name, the album floats around with no real home base and no real direction. The album starts off with one of the most jarring tracks in recent country music history. “Beautiful Drug” is an EDM pop song monstrosity that would be right at home on a Sam Hunt, Justin Timberlake, or Coldplay album. It isn’t that the song isn’t catchy, because it is, but it is NOT country. At all. It is pure pop. And it kicks off the album, letting you know that the old Zac Brown is gone and the new sound is here to make loads of money off their bewildered fans. I truly feel sorry for any fan who pre-ordered this album expecting a country record. It simply isn’t. Zac and the boys have never claimed to be solely country, and can make any type of album they want, but they owe to their fans and to the genre to have enough respect to call this a side project or release it as a pop album. This swindled a lot of loyal fans into music they probably will scratch their heads at. The album really goes all over the place. “Loving You Easy” is lined up to be a single, and it is just some r&b jam song that doesn’t really hit the country genre at all. “Mango Tree” is a big band song that isn’t really bad, but isn’t country. “Heavy Is The Head” features Chris Cornell and is a pure metal song. “Tomorrow Never Comes” has a pleasing enough melody and a little banjo, but it goes into this Avicii style EDM mess that ruins the song. The acoustic version of the song is a much better option and isn’t too bad. Essentially, you get one song from every musical genre. There is no direction and no reasoning. It is just a scattered mess.

       It isn’t all bad. “Remedy” is a great modern country song that sounds reminiscent of the guys’ older hits that really struck a chord with traditional country fans. The great harmonies and pleasing melody in this song is the picture of what made us all love Zac Brown in the past. Now, normally, when you have an album this sketchy, there isn’t a Song of The Year contender anywhere in sight. That is not the case here. “Dress Blues” is a moving and heartfelt tribute to soldiers who have laid down their life. While many pro-military anthems sound pandering and over-the-top, this one does not. Calling it pro-military is actually a stretch, I’d call it “pro-human lives”. Of course, the song was written by the master wordsmith Jason Isbell. Releasing this song as a single could cover up some very poor choices on this album and keep the guys in the top tier of country star. This has award show hardware written all over it. The arrangement and harmonies work perfectly and truly creates a moment amid the madness of the rest of the album. As previously stated, the lead single “Homegrown” is a fairly decent song as well, although it could be the poster-child for false advertisement. It was a great choice as a lead single from a performance standpoint, but it sells the album as something that it simply is not.

     Some will point to Zac Brown’s contention that they “aren’t really country” as an excuse for this album. Others will say they are flexing their creative muscle and branching out. I would say that those people are misguided. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a band trying new things. Want to make a rock album? Awesome, can’t wait to hear it. Rap? Sure. Big band? Why not? But to market it as a country album to country fans after building up a loyal fan base in the genre just isn’t fair. Trying to fit this much stuff on one album is just too much. I’ve heard the argument “Well, the album is called Jekyll & Hyde, so it is supposed to be split”. No. This is not Jekyll and Hyde, its Jekyll and Hyde and Bud and Frank and Don and Mike and Steve. There is just too much happening here. As a side project for fun, this album would not be a huge deal. As a major country release, Jekyll & Hyde is a disjointed disaster. Hopefully, Zac and the boys can find themselves again and right the ship. Until then, avoid this album if you want to hear actual country music.

Standout Tracks: "Dress Blues", "Homegrown", "Remedy"
"Dress Blues"

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