Album Review – Zac Brown Band’s Experimental ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ Is All Over The Place

ZBB Jekyll + Hyde

Complex. Diverse. Different. These are the words that most aptly describe the new album, Jekyll + Hyde, from Zac Brown Band. Never before have I heard a country album so diverse in sound. Thankfully it came early in the mail for me, which allowed me extra time to wrap my head around it. If I had to wait until today to hear, you probably wouldn’t have read this review until next week. I’m not going to waste time on an intro and jump right in, as this is the longest review I’ve ever written on Country Perspective (I probably could have written even more). I will say this before I begin: this is most difficult review I’ve ever taken on, for many different reasons. So grab a drink and sit in a comfy chair as I take you through this album.

This wild album begins with “Beautiful Drug,” where right away you hear something you thought you never would from Zac Brown Band. They’ve gone electric, as this is a straight up folktronica song. The song itself is about being in love with a girl. While these electronic sounds are upbeat and fun, what is the point of this? There was no reason for Zac Brown Band to do this other than chase radio play. While it will be a fun song to play this upcoming summer, nobody is going to remember it. Next is their new single, “Loving You Easy.” It’s again a song about being in love with a girl. Once again it’s also a new sound for the band, as it’s decidedly a Motown/country fusion. The instrumentation is upbeat and fun. The fiddle play throughout is nice too. But these lyrics are straight up fluff and in no way original. I can see why this is a single.

“Remedy” has the classic Zac Brown Band sound for the most part. Brown co-wrote this with Americana artist Keb Mo, Niko Moon and Wyatt Durrette. It’s a song about loving each other and how it’s the remedy to solving problems in the world. It’s a nice sentiment, but the opening lyrics are a tad hypocritical after hearing the first two songs. The opening lyrics:

I’ve been looking for a sound

That makes my heart sing

Been looking for a melody

That makes the church bells ring

Not looking for the fame

Or the fortune it might bring

In love, in music, in life

With the first three albums this seems to be true. But when you’re adding Motown and folktronica sounds to your arsenal on a country album I find this hard to believe. You’re admitting that you’re chasing trends, which leads to fame and fortune with these types of songs. Just thought I would point this out. I know they’ve been upfront about not being your prototypical country band, but this is still labeled a country album. The drums and gospel choir at the end of the song are also unnecessary, but don’t hurt the song too much.

I already discussed the lead single, “Homegrown,” which is one of the best tracks on the album. Check out my full review of that if you missed it. Moving on, the band tackles another completely new sound in “Mango Tree.” Err rather I should say Zac Brown, as the band feels completely missing on this song. This is a straight up big band song from the Sinatra era, which is cool and weird. Brown duets in the song with Sara Bareilles, a talented pop artist who has a great voice, as the song is pulled off well by the duo. It’s a good song, but why is it on the album? This will be okay if it stays an album cut I guess, but with the inclusion of Bareilles I don’t think this will be the case. Like I said this is a good song, but it doesn’t belong on this album and it doesn’t belong on country radio. The winding shifts of sounds in this album continues, as “Heavy Is The Head” is next. It’s a hard rock song and it’s the current #1 song on the Billboard Rock Airplay chart. Brown is joined on the song by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. It isn’t very surprising that Brown can pull off rock music, as the band has balanced between country music and southern fried rock their whole career. Once again though I feel like the band is missing and it’s a Brown solo project. This is another song while good, does not belong on the album. It would’ve fit in much better on The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1 EP.

Finally the group delivers a beautiful song that showcases their great talent in “Bittersweet.” It’s one of the best written songs on the album, as it’s about a man losing his wife to a disease and how he’s reflecting on the fact that tomorrow she won’t be there with him. The songwriting evokes great emotion in the listener and might even bring a tear to your eye. The instrumentation is equally good and I love the guitar and fiddles crashing in at the end of the song to really punctuate the song. This is the Zac Brown Band I know and love on this song. “Castaway” is a beach song and I don’t think I have to say anymore about what this song is about. I’ve said before that I feel Zac Brown Band pulls off these types of songs better than about anyone else out there, with maybe the exception of Jimmy Buffett. The instrumentation is a great blend of reggae and country. In addition Brown has enough charisma to make the song likable. But a part of me feels like the Zac Brown Band has outgrown this music. This song is also a perfect example of why some people can’t take them seriously. You’ll either love this song or hate it, depending on your outlook on beach songs.

Once again the group dives into folktronica on “Tomorrow Never Comes.” There’s also an acoustic version of the song at the end of the album. Listeners are going to automatically compare the two, but before I do I want to talk about the song itself. It’s pretty good and can paint of a variety of different images in the listeners’ heads. It has no specific theme, leaving the listener to decide. I enjoy these types of songs, as music is a subjective art. As for what version I think is better, it’s easily the acoustic version. While they pull off folktronica better on this song than on “Beautiful Drug,” it still feels too noisy and uncharacteristic of the group. The acoustic version is beautiful and maybe my favorite song on the album. It shouldn’t be the acoustic version. It should be the only version. There should never be an acoustic version of a song on a Zac Brown Band album, as acoustic is Zac Brown Band. They gave folktronica a shot, but ultimately I feel they should stay away from it. All country artists should stay away and leave it to the likes of Avicii in pop music.

“One Day” is the group’s spin on the R&B/funk influenced country. This is another song that is closer to the band’s true sound, as the R&B influence naturally blends with it. It’s a pleasant song about love, which at this point is starting to become a bit tiresome. This isn’t the great songwriting we’re used to hearing from Brown and the band. It might make for decent single on radio, but it’s honestly not very memorable. One of the first three songs released on the album, “Dress Blues,” is next. This Jason Isbell-penned song is the best on Jekyll + Hyde because of course it is. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song about the harsh reality of sending young soldiers to fight wars. I give kudos to Zac Brown Band for covering such a brilliant song and giving Isbell much deserved exposure (and some nice royalty checks). By the way if you’re wondering who the woman on backing vocals is, that’s the one and only Jewel. I thought she sounded pretty good. I enjoy both versions of the song, but if you must know which I prefer it’s Isbell’s version.

On “Young And Wild” I think I’m the most baffled at the production. There are production issues throughout this album, but it’s at its worst on this song. There are so many unnecessary sounds thrown in that bring the song down and make it hard to enjoy. This is on co-producer Jay Joyce, who I’m going to rant about here in a minute. The lyrics are once again too fluffy for my liking and are also too similar to other themes explored in the album. One of the most complex and intriguing songs on the album is “Junkyard.” It’s a gritty story about a child who lives with an abusive father, the junkyard man. This father is very abusive and controlling of not just the child, but the mother too. By the end of the song the child has had enough and murders the father with a knife. It’s an intense song and tells a great story. The part where the child has had enough in the song the electric guitars kicks it up a notch, signifying the shift in attitude brilliantly. This is one of the few moments on the album where Zac Brown Band tries something different and it works well.

“I’ll Be Your Man” (Song For A Daughter) is a song that is sung from the point of view of a father to his daughter. He sings about how he will always protect her and be there for her. For fathers listening to this song, you’ll connect really well with this song. For the rest, it’s a decent song. It could’ve been better, but it stretches on entirely too long and the addition of a choir towards the end is not needed. Once again it’s an overproduced song. The penultimate song on the album is “Wildfire.” It should be noted that Brown co-wrote this song with Eric Church, Clay Cook, Wyatt Durrette and Liz Rose. It’s once again a love song with laundry list lyrics. The instrumentation is pretty good, but I think the production is a little overdone. If that’s stripped back a little, this song sounds better. I’m baffled again too how fluffy the lyrics are and I’m left wanting something more.

Now I want to talk about producer Jay Joyce. When I saw fellow critic Mark Grondin of Spectrum Pulse point this out, I immediately realized why I had such a conflicted feeling about this album and why I don’t love it. For those unaware of Joyce’s track record, he was the producer behind Eric Church’s 2014 release The Outsiders, Little Big Town’s Pain Killer and Halestorm’s newly released album Into The Wildlife. You know what all of those albums had in common for me? They were overproduced, underwhelming and pretty disappointing. I’m left with pretty much the same feeling with Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde. It isn’t a coincidence that Joyce was behind each of these albums and I didn’t like them as much as I thought I would. He’s a huge problem and is a monster that needs to be stopped. Stop ruining music, Jay Joyce.

When it comes down to it this is probably one of the biggest disappointments in country music in 2015 for me. Zac Brown Band’s previous album Uncaged was one of my favorite country albums in the last five years. They could have easily expanded off of that album. Instead Brown brings Joyce aboard so he can muck up the sound of a great band. It was only the talent of the band where they were allowed to shine that saved this album from being a mediocre mess and make it something decent and somewhat listenable. Shame on Zac Brown for bringing Joyce into the fold and going all Bono on this album. For the first time ever I felt like the ego and business acumen of Zac Brown hurt the final product. Many Zac Brown Band fans and I’m sure many critics too will eat this album up, just like Church’s album and Little Big Town’s album. It will sell really well and do good on radio. But the cold hard truth is that there are a lot more albums that will outshine this one by far. Ultimately I will forget about Jekyll + Hyde and remember it as lackluster effort. For now I’m left disgusted, betrayed, confused and disappointed with this album.

Grade: 6/10

82 thoughts on “Album Review – Zac Brown Band’s Experimental ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ Is All Over The Place

  1. Raymond April 28, 2015 / 11:11 am

    Review of the Year! Great Job Josh I listened to some of the album and my gosh it’s like the ZBB are wanting to be in every genre in music like you say less is more case in point Girl Crush the one LBT song that dialed back on production.

    Since it’s mentions Jewel what did you think of her when she did country music

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott April 28, 2015 / 11:15 am

      Thank you Raymond.

      I honestly don’t remember when Jewel was in country music, but I’ve always liked her voice.

      Like

      • Raymond April 28, 2015 / 11:18 am

        She had songs like Ten Stronger Woman Do I check ker out

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      • Raymond April 28, 2015 / 11:28 am

        Here’s one of her songs

        It wasn’t her biggest hit but I found the song to be pretty good.

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  2. Derek Hudgin April 28, 2015 / 11:28 am

    Probably more to do with my personal taste of music, but I enjoyed “Remedy” and love the mix of Celtic/World/Gospel. The lyrics are a bit cheesy and fluffy, but I thought the production of melody is a great compliment to them. For a song about loving everybody, it makes sense to me to have a gospel, world type musical production to it.

    Also, I loved the last 3 minutes of “I’ll Be Your Man.” Maybe (again) it’s my personal music taste with the way the band harmonizes in gospel fashion. Or maybe it’s because the majority of the album, as you said, feels like a Zac Brown solo project, that I just loved hearing the rest of the band do what they do best and just play music.

    “Junkyard” was a little disappointing to me, simply because the older mix they had back in their independent release ‘HOME GROWN’ and again on the live ‘PASS THE JAR’ is rocking and awesome. I appreciate the chaos of the melody fitting with the rough story, and loved the sample of Pink Floyd’s “Is Anybody Out There,” but overall the over-production hurts that song in my opinion.

    All in all, it’s just a lackluster album. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott April 28, 2015 / 11:54 am

      Oh I still enjoyed “Remedy,” but I had to point out the irony of the opening lyrics. I usually don’t mind the gospel influence like that in songs, but it just felt like overkill to me on this song. I actually liked the Celtic influence giving it a different flavor. It’s kind of the story of the whole album: they float out a bunch of different ideas that could work, but they get buried by the bad ideas. They weren’t too far off from having a good album, but some bad creative choices ultimately sunk the whole thing.

      I haven’t heard the older mix of “Junkyard” before. I’ll have to give that a listen. I loved the lyrics in that song and I was impressed that they finally put out something dark and gritty like this. They’ve more than proven they can pull off happier songs, but I want to hear them tackle darker subjects like you would hear on a Shovels & Rope album.

      Yeah this is not what I expected from them. We can only hope this is just a bump in the road, they ditch Jay Joyce and get back to their old selfs on the next album. We’ll probably have to wait three years though. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • Derek Hudgin April 28, 2015 / 11:55 am

        Here’s a link to the Pass The Jar cut of Junkyard. Enjoy!

        Liked by 1 person

      • theknightswhosayni4 May 11, 2015 / 5:19 pm

        This is the 5th version of Junkyard that I have on my iTunes (I will also note I have 120 Zac Brown Band songs) and I have to say it’s really neat to see the evolution of the song. I would agree with Derek that the version on their “Home Grown” independently-released CD is the best, however Zac also released an acoustic version before that on Far From Einstyne. All that said, Junkyard, in any format, has the potential to be one of the greatest songs in ZBB’s arsenal because it is so powerful, and was also written about Zac’s childhood. I don’t know too much about the details, but from what I’ve heard Zac wrote the song about a step-father he had growing up.

        For the most part I agree completely with your review, after my first listen to the CD I was incredibly disappointed. Zac Brown Band is my favorite act in music and I’ve seen them 8 times. They are amazing, and crazy-talented. But this CD felt like it strayed way too far off base. I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about it being overproduced. However, I will say that having listened to the CD in it’s entirety about a dozen times now, just about every song on it has grown on me to the point that I love it all. I guess that’s just the effect Zac Brown Band has on me, but I am still really hoping they can put out a better CD next time around.

        One last thing, funny you mention Eric Church’s “The Outsiders” CD…because I felt exactly the same about that one! After “Chief” was, in my personal opinion, one of the best CDs ever released in Country Music, “The Outsiders” let me down in a way I didn’t think could ever be repeated…at least until the first spin of Jekyll + Hyde.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Lorenzo April 28, 2015 / 11:39 am

    very, VERY interesting review Josh. I have listened to the record as well and I really liked it (except for those two or three hard rock-metal oriented songs), but I completely agree on what you think: they’ve tried too hard. and I couldn’t agree more on that stupid Joyce, even tough I think this album is way better than those crappy and overrated Outsiders and Pain Killer. Maybe that’s because, unlike those records, Jekyll + Hyde doesn’t rely too much on the same thing (the Outsiders and Pain Killer are heavily rock oriented). In my mind this album is closer to Brad Paisley’s Wheelhouse, which tried to add some diversity, effects and colours to pop-country tracks to create a wide variety of topics and musical deviations. In some ways i feel like Jekyll + Hyde has really too much, like ZBB is trying to add a little bit of everything in it without any logic. But on the other hand I kind of liked this diversity. I think this is going to be a very polarizing album, I would’ve never expect this from Zac Brown Band. And even tough I enjoyed the album, they disappointed me. If I had to rate this album, I’d give it 8/10 (The Outsiders 3/10; Pain Killer 1.5/10 and Wheelhouse 9/10).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott April 28, 2015 / 12:02 pm

      Oh this is much better than Church’s album and Little Big Town’s album. As you said those albums were way too rock oriented. If I had reviewed Church’s album last year I would have been much harsher than I am here and you know my thoughts on Pain Killer.

      Brad Paisley’s Wheelhouse was much better done than this. Paisley experimented a little bit, but he didn’t go too far off the rails like this album. It was one of my favorite albums of 2013. With the exception of the ridiculous “Accidental Racist,” I enjoyed that album a lot. I thought he would’ve expanded upon it with Moonshine in the Trunk, but alas he didn’t. I probably would’ve given Wheelhouse a 8 or 8.5 out of 10.

      I definitely appreciated the amount of diversity on this album. Not many bands could pull off so many different genres in one album. But it felt out of control. It feels like they just started throwing stuff together and I guarantee they had several songs that got left on the cutting room floor. If they wanted to go outside of country music/southern rock they’re used to doing they could’ve done a double album. One half is a traditional album and the other is their experiments and collaborations. I would’ve loved that. As much time as it took to get this out they could have done it too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lorenzo April 28, 2015 / 5:40 pm

        I couldn’t agree more with you. yeah, the big problem of this album is it has no idea where to go and what to appeal. I would have loved them to record a double record with a traditional and an experimental side, it would’ve been amazing!

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  4. Raymond April 28, 2015 / 12:38 pm

    Is it ok to say in music that less is usually more if it’s correct I mean yeah if it’s a party song I don’t mind it but slow songs with lyrics need to stay slow.

    Now Josh I saw your tweet why oh why did you bother to listen to Ridiculous by Haley Georgia after I warned you to avoid it and it’s insulting to say she’s equal to Raelynn Raelynn at least doesn’t sound like Kesha or Lady Gaga

    Like

    • Josh Schott April 28, 2015 / 12:42 pm

      Yes less is usually more when it comes to production and instrumentation. Too many mainstream country songs try to do too much and as a result the song is tarnished.

      Well you know I can’t resist a train wreck. Haha! I only listened to a little bit of the preview before I shut it off. I’m hoping we don’t have to review it. If it gets traction on radio we will. If not it will hopefully just go away. Yeah maybe the RaeLynn thing is a little unfair, but I can’t stand either of them.

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      • Raymond April 28, 2015 / 1:08 pm

        Ok if you had to choose for female newcomers Raelynn Kelsea or Haley which one would you had to welcome.

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        • Josh Schott April 28, 2015 / 1:49 pm

          Mickey Guyton. And to answer your other question of how far I made it into “Ridiculous,” about 25 seconds.

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      • Raymond April 28, 2015 / 1:39 pm

        Ok Josh how far did you make it into it I managed to last 90 seconds and I don’t know how I did that.

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      • Raymond April 28, 2015 / 2:33 pm

        No Mickey Guyton is not an option she probably won’t break out Better Than You Left Me will be lucky if it gets Top 30.I’ve heard you talked about her but since I’ve started I’ve never seen that many articles I do love Better Than You Left Me my question was really do you find any of Kelsea Raelynn to be even a decent vocalist I mean yeah Mickey crushes them but which ones the best out of the 2 of them. Trust me though here’s when you know a song is not gonna do well if even people on Pulse Music Board hate it or if a lot of the YouTube comments are just downright ugly if my radio plays Ridickulous I’m calling them and boycotting radio in general.

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  5. Stew April 28, 2015 / 1:25 pm

    Jay Joyce has actually produced all of Eric Church’s albums thus far. “Sinner’s Like Me” & “Carolina” are my favorite two Eric Church albums and I don’t think that they’re overproduced. I think he is capable of good work.

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    • Bob May 27, 2015 / 10:05 am

      To my ears, “Sinners Like Me” has been Church’s hit point ….. it’s been all down hill since then!

      Like

  6. NoahHibiscusEaton April 28, 2015 / 1:53 pm

    You hit it on the head when you said this is the first “Zac Brown Band” album that reflects more Zac Brown the businessman and benevolent dictator, as opposed to an egalitarian effort.

    I feared before the album’s release that “JEKYLL + HYDE” would wind up for the band what “Everyday” was for the Dave Matthews Band…………….and in many respects my fear was indeed confirmed. Much like “Everyday”, where Dave Matthews’ bandmates were relegated to second-class citizen status on too many tracks and the album lacked chemistry between its members and came across more like the debut Dave Matthews solo album……………..I get that same impression with “JEKYLL + HYDE”.

    Jimmy de Martini’s killer fiddle is conspicuously absent across most of this collection. I can hardly tell where Clay Cook’s contributions are to be found. Daniel de los Reyes was included to enhance their percussion repertoire, and this album just doesn’t serve as a fitting testament to his talents. And…………….you get the idea. The craftsmanship takes a back seat to Joyce’s penchant for walls of sound and “weirdness for weirdness’s sake”.

    *

    Even still, my biggest criticism of this album resides in the fact that, for all the boasting they do of experimenting and expanding their sound, none of that ambition carries over into the songwriting. Both of the two lead country singles are complete fluff, and the shortcomings continue on with “Castaway”, “One Day”, “Tomorrow Never Comes”, “Beautiful Drug”, etc. Ironically, considering country music is traditionally considered the most lyrical genre of all, I think the two best-written songs on this album happen to be the rockers: “Junkyard” and “Heavy Is The Head”, while “I’ll Be Your Man” and, obviously, their cover of Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues” are the other standouts.

    Otherwise, Zac Brown is obsessing over the wrapping paper of the product as opposed to the content of the package he is wrapping.

    *

    So I’ll just come out and say it: for a solo Zac Brown album, this is still an entertaining listening experience I’d actually still recommend IF you have the right set of expectations entering it. It still SOUNDS ambitious and makes for an audiophile corkscrew roller coaster ride…………….and it is for this reason why I’d give it a strong 6 to light 7 out of 10.

    But that’s what “JEKYLL + HYDE” is: owing much more to cheap thrills and entertainment courtesy of an amusement park tycoon, than something resembling art and eight men coming together democratically for the love of music. And we deserved more than this.

    *

    That said, there’s still reason to be hopeful this is more of a one-time deal: the album’s title.

    The album’s title, “JEKYLL + HYDE”, implies this album is meant to be interpreted as the one representing meeting their absolute breaking point in terms of musical bi-polarity (I say this not intended as disrespect to those diagnosed with bi-polar disorder)………..and will be regarded as their definitive genre-breaking era………………..while subsequent efforts will still find them experiment for sure, but not nearly as brazenly as they do here.

    I’m predicting their eventual follow-up will be a whole lot more contained than this album is, and any experimentation they do will be more like what they did on “Uncaged”: where they cut the straight-up R&B song “Overnight” and flirted more with time signatures and tempo changes, but otherwise offer a more consistent flair.

    But above all else, you know what would be most experimental, Zac? Create an album where you put all that ambition in defying genre, and apply it to your group’s songwriting! That sure would result in something groundbreaking now, wouldn’t it? 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Josh Schott April 28, 2015 / 2:17 pm

      Yes! I was shocked how buried Jimmy De Martini was on this album. I love him. It’s ridiculous he wasn’t featured more. Sure he had a few nice moments, but he barely on the album it felt like.

      I completely agree on songwriting. It actually hurts this album more than the production, which is crazy to think about. This is the laziest songwriting ever done by Zac Brown Band. If it wasn’t for the likes of Jason Isbell and Keb Mo this entire album would stink in terms of songwriting.

      Oh it is an enjoyable listen, especially in the summer at the beach or a party. But that’s it. This makes for a nice summer anthem album in 2015, but after that this album won’t hold up at all except for songs like “Dress Blues” and “Bittersweet.” Those folktronica songs are a dime a dozen. We’ve heard enough beach tunes from ZBB too.

      I believe this is a one time deal too and not a full sellout moment. At least for now. Brown might like the taste of all the money this rakes in and just churn out another album like this one. Uncaged was perfect as I’ve said in that they kept their signature sound for the most part and had some nice experimental songs too. That’s the kind of project I expected this time, only a little more boundary pushing and more rock influence. Instead we get a blob of different genres mixed together. Yes the songwriting! Why can’t they give us top notch songwriting like their top notch instrumentation? It’s the one department they have yet to reach their full potential on. If they have to bring on phenomenal songwriters like Isbell to help even. I just know this album is going to leave a bad taste in my mouth for a while on them and they’ll have to deliver on their next one if they want me to ever come back around on them.

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      • Stew April 28, 2015 / 3:01 pm

        A violin and a fiddle are the exact same instrument.

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        • Josh Schott April 28, 2015 / 3:42 pm

          Yes they are and you can chalk my remark up to a big brain fart, which has been fixed. As much bad news that’s flowing into country music today I can hardly think or write straight.

          Like

      • Stew April 28, 2015 / 4:00 pm

        Hahaha I hear ya!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Derek Hudgin April 28, 2015 / 2:40 pm

      Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if it was rock, country or even R&B/Soul (like “One Day” or “Loving You Easy”), but I would love to hear a focused Zac Brown Band album with great songwriting. 11 tracks of one genre would be a treat, because these guys can play almost anything and make it sound great. For the most part, that was Uncaged, and that’s also why The Grohl Sessions Vol. 1 worked so well too. I think Zac Brown saw dollar signs in “popping” out his music and devoted all the attention to the production.

      We know these guys can write great songs (“Day That I Die” still stands as one of my favorite ZBB songs and it was written by the trio Brown, Moon, and Durette who wrote, together, many of the tracks here). Not to mention the many great singles they’ve had succeed on radio too.

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  7. Pete Marshall April 28, 2015 / 6:56 pm

    Zac Brown Band “Jekyll + Hyde”: I just bought their cd today so I will listen to it tonight. I read your review so I will be prepared to listen to this cd. Eric Church “Outsiders” wasn’t that bad there were 2 song that I don’t like but overall was pretty good.

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  8. Dusty April 28, 2015 / 8:29 pm

    Interesting review. It seems like you were definitely hoping for more of the same from the group; i.e. mainstream country with pop and mild southern rock inflections.

    I couldn’t be more happy to see that those moments are few on this album. While it is a little schizophrenic at first listen, it is an interesting eclectic album. Are there artists who can pull off the big band of Mango Tree better? Or the epic pop of Tomorrow Never Comes? Absolutely. Should Sam Hunt, Jason Aldean and Thomas Rhett be the only “country” artists using EDM in their music? YES. That’s already too many…

    None of the songs on here are as good as other artists could pull off in their own genre, but few artists could pull off something as diverse as this. It’s truly a reflection of ZBB, who have always been significantly better live than on record.

    My only complaints are the neutering of Jason Isbell’s beautiful Dress Blues (I didn’t think they could ruin such a great song) and the strange arrangement of Homegrown’s Junkyard, which has been one of my favourite Zac Brown songs for years.

    I think that the addition of the songs from this album will help expand their already impressive live shows, which are packed full of rockers and sprawling jams. Hopefully the pop moments are tweaked or left out of their live sets though.

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    • Derek Hudgin April 29, 2015 / 8:56 am

      Oh I could certainly see how this album was catered around live shows. That’s really where the Zac Brown Band thrives. Much like Dave Matthews, ZBB can sell out almost anywhere without much radio support. With that said, though, it’s odd to have an album with a couple straight up electronica songs like “Beautiful Drug” or “Tomorrow Never Comes” when you have an 8-piece band who are some of the best instrumentalists in music and capable of taking just about any genre of music and making it sound great.

      That’s why the sell-out argument pops up. Why else would a band release Avicii like electronica songs, or pop-country cliche songs like “Wildfire.” This album is riding on musical trends of many genres. Now while the songs themselves aren’t half-bad, it’s still seems like an attempt to sweep up as much cash as possible with crossover hit potential.

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      • Dusty45s April 29, 2015 / 10:50 pm

        Maybe I’m giving them too much credit. Those EDM songs won’t get repeated listens from me, but with such a long tracklist that’s ok. When I heard them, I took them as a tongue in cheek commentary on the horrid state of country music today, as in “look Aldean & Sam Hunt, this stuff is easy to pull off. Look how terrible these songs are and they’ll be eaten up by teen girls…”

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  9. Dusty April 28, 2015 / 8:32 pm

    I do find it strange to read so many people using the sell out argument, claiming that ZBB were looking for easy money with this release. It seems to me that it’s designed to alienate their casual fanbase and cut things down to a much smaller size. I don’t know a lot of mainstream country fans who are going to be excited to hear Heavy is the Head or even Mango Tree. I feel like the last full album was all about the cash and was forgettable because of it. This one is more diverse like Zac’s Homegrown, with exceptionally better musicianship.

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  10. Zack April 28, 2015 / 8:56 pm

    I’ve admittedly skipped around the album (and I plan to comment again once I’ve absorbed the album) and of the tracks I’ve heard, “Beautiful Drug”, “Loving You Easy”, “Remedy”, “Homegrown”, “Mango Tree”, “Heavy Is The Head”, “Dress Blues”, “Junkyard”, “Castaway”, I absolutely love “Junkyard”, and “Dress Blues” and like “Homegrown”, “Heavy Is The Head”, and “Remedy”, and find “Loving You Easy”, “Castaway” to be mediocore. And then I hate “Beautiful Drug”, and “Mango Tree”. I’m taken aback at the diversity I’ve heard from these few tracks, but I have to give kudos to Josh for this review, especially with his honesty in his review, as I know ZBB is one of his favorites. Based off of our conversation on Twitter I would have thought you liked it better, but I have to give the album about 56 listens before I can make a decision so I’ll be back

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  11. Zack April 29, 2015 / 8:26 pm

    Well I’ve had the chance now to listen to this twice (which still isn’t enough but at least I can join in) and well….The best I can do is give my thoughts on each individual song:

    “Beautiful Drug”- I don’t hate this as much as lot of people seem to but it’s still weird and really has no business being on the album
    5/10

    “Loving You Easy”- I don’t know why but this one just doesn’t appeal to me
    5/10

    “Remedy”- This sounds like classic ZBB to me, and I love the celtic feel of it
    9.5/10

    “Homegrown”- Still one of the best tracks here, it might be lyrically simple but that doesn’t make it a bad song, in fact- this is how a feel good song SHOULD be
    9/10

    “Mango Tree”- It’s probably personal taste, as I don’t care much for big band stuff, but this one is lyrically light and neither Zac nor Sara sound really, idk, comfortable?
    3/10

    “Heavy Is The Head”- Well I’ll say it right now, the rock songs are my favorite, and it’s not even close. I just love the intensity that is brought to this
    10/10

    “Bittersweet”- Another highlight, such a beautiful tear jerker, this is one of the best songs they’ve ever done
    10/10

    “Castaway”- You’re right Josh, you either love this one or hate it
    4/10

    “Tomorrow Never Comes”- A good song (at least lyrically speaking) ruined by a bad production
    6/10

    “One Day”- Not bad, but could have been cut, there really isn’t anything that stands out about this
    5/10

    “Dress Blues”- Admittedly I’m not an Isbell fan, but I can’t deny a fantastic song, this really should’ve been on one of their previous albums
    10/10

    “Young & Wild”- Another weird one…. it’s an “eh” for me
    5/10

    “Junkyard”- Holy shit, possibly one of my favorite songs ever! The lyrics are still somewhat baffling to me (I get the idea, there’s just tiny tidbits I’m confused over) but still this song is so freakin’ intense, and admittedly I love the spooky hard rock/metal that looms over it
    10/10

    I’ll Be Your Man (Song For A Daughter) –
    I like the sentiment, even though I can’t relate to it. I just wish it wasn’t so unnecessarily long…
    8/10

    Wildfire- I kinda like this, it is still lyrically light, but I like it better than the bulk of the mediocre tracks on here
    6.5/10

    Tomorrow Never Comes (Acoustic Version)- You’re right Josh, THIS should be the main version…
    9/10

    Overall, this album is a roller coaster, not just in sound but in songs too, we go from heavy hitting song of the year type songs to light, experimental filler. Honestly if this album had trimmed some of the fat, then it would have been a hell of a lot better. Idk if this will stick but I’m thinking a 7, maybe 7.5 for this.

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    • Josh Schott April 29, 2015 / 10:25 pm

      Originally I was going to give it a 7.5/10, but the EDM and the production choices towards the end of the album were too big in my mind to give it such a high score. This album was actually not too far away from being good. You take out the EDM songs, Wildfire, Young & Wild, Mango Tree and one of the R&B influenced songs it’s pretty good. That would give the album 10 songs, one less than Uncaged. Hell they could have then thrown in a live performance of a song as a bonus if they wanted to. I’m pretty bitter about this album now, but I realize there’s a good chance that this is one off deal. The reviews for it haven’t been that great and many fans are disappointed too, so this is hopefully a speed bump in an otherwise great career for ZBB.

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    • Dusty45s April 29, 2015 / 10:52 pm

      I like how you broke it down song by song. I agree with you on a lot of the songs, but can clearly see where we differ. I love Mango Tree and think it’s likely to be one of my favourite songs in the long run. I’m a huge Isbell fan, back from his days in DBT & I despise this neutered cover of a great song. On an album with EDM, this might still manage to be my least favourite song.

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      • Zack April 30, 2015 / 6:55 am

        Hey Dusty, I can see where you’re coming from, honestly I just don’t like Mango Tree simply because of personal taste in music, which is really what this album boils down to. Depending on what genre you like, there are songs that you’re going to love and hate. You’re right Josh, the latter half (aside from Junkyard) is just boring, he’ll I’ve given it three listens now and I can’t remember a damn thing about One Day or Young and Wild and there are definently songs I skip through. I bought this digitally so at least I can make a playlist of the songs I liked. It’s definitely not an album that anyone would want to sit through more than once. Yeah Josh, hopefully this was just a one time deal

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  12. Judy May 12, 2015 / 12:15 pm

    I thought the album was aptly named…Jekyll & Hyde…I love the album overall, some of the songs aren’t to my personal taste, but any musician that explores outside their “designated genre” is ok with me. You keep mentioning “Country” album. I don’t think Zac Brown fits in the country album area as much as he fits into southern rock, that being said…a lot of country artist don’t fit into southern rock as much as the fit into pop by my opinion!
    The first time I listened to the album, i was let down, but the more I listen to it, the more I appreciate the stepping out of character.

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  13. Rolf May 25, 2015 / 10:32 am

    Hi Josh,
    thanks for putting to words what I felt listening to the new ZBB album. I’m from Belgium Europe and English is not my native language. Since I have a background in audio recording/mixing/mastering the biggest disappointment for me was the way this album destroyed by a poor wannabe production. So far away from the superb sound on the first 3 albums. I just can’t imagine any member of the band being happy with the result on this latest album… what a difference just listening to the sound of the drums! How could this happen?
    As for the songs; I guess you can only encourage bands like the ZBB trying new things, but it shouldn’t lead to poor songs and lack of purity.
    To me it feels like the ZBB has seen it’s best days, and I really hate to see them loose it.
    As much as I would like to enjoy this album, I don’t think I’m gonna play this one like I did the first 3.

    Best,
    Rolf

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  14. Bethany Spielman June 6, 2015 / 5:59 pm

    Long time favorite band of mine. Listened to Jekyll and Hyde and it was complete crap. I was really disappointed I spent the money on it. 😦 Hope their next album is better – they need to stick to country!

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  15. Coby Isley June 10, 2015 / 11:13 am

    Hey everyone,

    First off, solid review. Very interesting and quality points made. I agree that a lot of this album is overproduced and overdone. However, the comments, particularly ones about the album reflecting the Zac Brown businessman / in it for the money side of him, I couldn’t disagree more.

    Let’s look at the name of the album in general. Jekyll and Hyde. For those of you that aren’t familiar, which is hopefully no one, Jekyll and Hyde is the story of a doctor, Jekyll, whose experiments result in him forming another, more sinister side of him, Mr. Hyde. Where things are one way for Jekyll, they are virtually the opposite for Hyde. Relating this to the album, it’s clear to see that the name is a play on this two-sidedness.

    What we are given on this album is a riddle: how much of what we hear is Dr. Jekyll, and how much is Mr. Hyde? Can ZBB balance forays into various genres while still retaining their identity? Are successes and failures in these genres indicative of them as a band, or are they indicative of the genre itself?

    On top of that, think about their career. 3 primary albums spanning about 7 years, with a couple extras spread out prior to this one. Each album is incredible. One could argue that there’s not a bad song on any of ’em. The band has succeeded. But now what? Maybe now that they’ve put out three stellar albums, they want to dive into other genres and flex a little artistic creativity. Maybe they wanted to add a little flavor to their repertoire by putting their own spin on genres.

    I think, more than a money grab, it’s a flexing of their artistic and creative muscles, and proof that they are very talented, so much so that they can just jump into another genre and jam. Now, as you noted, some of these jams don’t come off well. But as I said, that’s the whole point of the album; it’s up to us to determine if we’re listening to Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. And more importantly, it’s up to us to figure out if the two can coexist, which I think is the whole point of the Zac Brown Band. I believe that they as a unit attempt to bring in the best parts of music to reach out to as many audiences as possible. And while some of us may not like the folktronica, that reaches out to people. Beneath that folktronica is the stuff we know and love: the banjo, quick strumming acoustic guitar, and fiddle. Can Jekyll and Hyde coexist? Who knows, but us who listen to it. I was very taken aback at first because I expected old ZBB, but to paraphrase Jay-Z for language purposes, if you want the old stuff, buy the old albums. This album has a lot of character, and a lot of risk. I think it was an interesting gamble and expression of their musical talents, and I think that in the context of their entire career, this album will age very well.

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    • Judy June 12, 2015 / 7:51 am

      That was exactly my thoughts when I listened to this album…what a perfect title! In fact comment I made earlier were along those lines, but you said it so much more eloquently!

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  16. fromthewordsofbr August 7, 2015 / 4:09 pm

    I imagine how my dad and sister must’ve felt when they decided to sample this album. They’re huge fans of Zac Brown Band.

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  17. BrotherB August 19, 2015 / 7:40 am

    This is a tall drink of water for modern radio air play, across the nation. ZBB are ballsy and not afraid to dip their toes in the water of the unknown. From the Roger Waters penned “Junkyard”, to the grooving “Remedy”, Zac Brown Band outdid themselves right here. Bravo guys!

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