Zac Brown Band - Uncaged
Record Label: Atlantic/Home Grown/RPM
Release Date: July 10, 2012
At this point in their career, the Nashville-by-way-of-Georgia septet Zac Brown Band (ZBB) could just as easily fold up their suits and call it a career. They've already won two Grammy Awards, already topped the country charts eight times and both of their major label albums have gone platinum. In doing so, they've amassed a legion of followers inside the music business, including but not limited to: Kid Rock, Dave Matthews Band, Gregg Allman and Jason Mraz.
Being that the band is in the prime of their career, the last thing they'd do is call it quits, and so it is, they've released their third major label studio album Uncaged, a genre-bending, head-turning collection that vaults ZBB to the top of the roots-rock pedestal. Though they're classified as country, they really stand more as a Southern rock band infused with hints of reggae, bluegrass and acoustic pop.
Uncaged's lead single is "The Wind," a country ditty replete with fiddles, frenetic strumming and twang. For as long as they'll continue to write music, ZBB will always identify with country music first and foremost and their ability to tear it up on "The Wind," is proof of that. Aside from "The Wind," the only other country nee bluegrass offerings on here are the violin-laden "Natural Disaster" and the timeless Pure Prairie League sendup "Sweet Annie."
Album opener "Jump Right In," is playful and effortless and seems to be a surefire single. There's a bit of a breezy Caribbean vibe to it and while it is not unlike anything we've heard from them before, it is still a winning and inspired effort. If "Jump Right In," is the Zac Brown Band we all know and love, then "Uncaged" is ZBB 2.0. The title track is dense, bluesy and guitar-driven, a howling Southern rock gem that is rooted in first-rate playing from each of the seven cohesive pieces. This is the sound of a band completely leaving the genre that has made them a star and daring to do something different. That they pull it of as well as they do is only a testament to their collective strengths as a band.
Brown himself has never shied away from his love of reggae and has always cited Marley as one of his foremost inspirations. Nowhere is that more apparent than on "Island Song," a Rasta song to the core that proves if he wanted to, Brown could craft an entire album of reggae cuts and probably sell millions. With the exception of the soul/jazz/R&B effort "Overnight," the rest of Uncaged is tender, heartfelt and charming. Whether it's the bitter breakup ballad "Goodbye in Her Eyes," the inspirational lullaby "The Day That I Die," or the honest valentine, "Last But Not Least," there's a palpable sense of earnestness, sincerity and relativity, that makes the band so compelling.
But compelling is not all that Zac Brown and his bandmates want to be, and so it is, they took a risk, a giant risk, enlisting the help of Trombone Shorty and writing "Overnight," a steamy, sexual number that seems more like something Boyz II Men would write than that of a folksy, down-home Georgian. Musically, the song is a home run and Brown proves that not only could he craft an engaging reggae effort if he wanted to, he could probably also spin together an R&B/soul/jazz effort and it wouldn't fall short either.
The problem with "Overnight," is the tasteless lyrics and the fact that one of the nation's biggest country bands is writing a song that has zero chance of scoring on the country charts. But that very point is why ZBB remains so important to country music. They're loved and adored by many and are garnering new fans by the thousands in a genre steeped in traditions, morality and faith. And yet they are still resigned to create music on their own terms and in their own imagination.
That sort of resolution and determination is why the band is so immensely popular and while they will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in country music for years to come. While the album is decidedly less commercial than the septet's last effort, the musicianship on here is nothing short of spectacular. And seeing as it is currently number one on the country charts at the time of this writing, the fans most certainly agree.
Sure they may be uncaged and unbridled in their pursuits, but hot damn, the masses love it. Can an artist/band really ask for anything more?
Also never expected to see this reviewed on here, but really glad to see it. In spite of my musical tastes being more in line with AP than country, ZBB is probably my favorite band at the moment. These guys are incredibly talented, and span genres way outside of traditional "country" (which actually has the ability to give me a headache, at times). They just write great music, and are an extremely talented group of guys. Great album, great review!
Also glad to see this on here. While I'm not really a country fan (but I'm from the South, so I "get it"), Zac Brown Band is such a great band, that transcend the genre. Saw them live, middle front row, was an incredible experience.