The Hodgepodge: Zac Brown Band and ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ One Year Later

It was one year ago today that the Zac Brown Band released their 4th studio album, Jekyll + Hyde. Released on the heels of Uncaged, the excellent third album from the band, and a four-song rock EP produced by Dave Grohl, expectations were high for this album. Initially, the album seemed to fall in line with the expectations. We learned that the band would be covering Americana star Jason Isbell, and had a duet with rock star Chris Cornell from Soundgarden and Audioslave. Early access to “Dress Blues” and “Heavy is the Head” along with the album’s lead single “Homegrown” showed promise for another stellar album.

Come April 28th, downloads from iTunes were available, the album was on the shelves in stores for fans to buy. Everyone loaded the album, pressed play for track one, and then heard the unexpected. Electronic dance music pulsed through the speakers as “Beautiful Drug” played to kick off the album. The name Jekyll + Hyde rang true.

Dr. Henry Jekyll from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde conjures a potion that he hopes will suppress his evil thoughts and motivations. Much to his surprise, the potion acts in the opposite way, strengthening Jekyll’s evil alter ego, Edward Hyde. As the story goes, the evil Hyde continues to gain strength and overpower the good Dr. Jekyll. Jekyll and Hyde became synonymous with the good and bad in a person.

Zac Brown naming the album Jekyll + Hyde was perfect. He was completely aware of the content being released on the album, and the title could almost be an excuse or cry for forgiveness from the fans who were disappointed by the album. Those who were upset to hear not one, but two EDM-inspired songs on the album. The fans confused by the fact that the first six songs on the album jump around in six different genres: EDM, R&B, world-like, pop-country, big band/jazz, and rock. And those were the first six songs because those were the songs most we’re meant to hear. The band’s first four singles from the album (3 to country radio, 1 to rock radio) are found in this group.

Hearing Jekyll + Hyde for the first time was jarring. It’s an experimental album also meant to achieve commercial success. If you think the album was just a way for the band to try new things and have fun, they wouldn’t have released “Beautiful Drug” as a single. We had never heard Zac Brown Band sing an EDM/club song before, but they made sure we heard it, and they wrote it simple enough to take it to the top of the Country Airplay chart. Zac Brown saw dollar signs in the future, and he did everything in his power to stuff his pockets.

I was optimistic that the band’s Southern Ground strategic partnership with Big Machine et al. would result in some great opportunities for the band and the label’s lesser acts, all while Zac Brown maintained his creative vision. But Zac didn’t have a creative vision for his music, just a commercialized vision. Not two years after criticizing Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind Of Night,” Zac Brown eats his own words and released “Beautiful Drug” country radio. And I firmly believe that this was 100% the band’s idea. Take a look at this recent tweet from band member Clay Cook.

With a recent string of artists like Chase Rice apologizing for his new music, the Zac Brown Band are defending their crap. They’re happy to have written and recorded songs like “Beautiful Drug” because it was a successful experiment. A band who were once the outspoken gatekeepers calling out Nashville’s crap are now producing the same shit they criticized.

To an extent, you can’t blame a music artist for wanting to achieve a little more commercial success. But when that desire for more comes at the price of compromising the ground on which you once stood, it’s a disappointing transition. The desire for more money, the potion, brought about the band’s inner Edward Hyde.

It remains to be seen what the future will hold and how the band will follow this album era up. The Zac Brown Band island country staple, “Castaway,” is being released to country radio just in time for summer, which is almost guaranteed to help carry the song to another number one on the Airplay chart. With an album of 15 different songs, it’s possible that we could see a 5th single from Jekyll + Hyde be released to country radio. Maybe we’ll hear “Dress Blues” on radio after all, but time will only tell.

The past year has been disappointing in respect to the Zac Brown Band. They were one of the few mainstream artists leading the charge for quality music, and their foray into this EDM experimental world changed the minds of fans eager for something better than Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line. Some respect has been lost, but hope remains that Dr. Jekyll will win this time around.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Tomorrow, Martina McBride’s Reckless will be released.
  • May 6 is a big release day for mainstream country and Americana.
    • Cole Swindell’s You Should Be Here
    • Keith Urban’s Ripcord
    • Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Things That We Are Made Of
    • Cindy Lauper’s Detour
    • Ryan Beaver’s Rx
  • Florida Georgia Line will release their debut single from their upcoming third album. “H.O.L.Y.” will be available tomorrow.
  • Maddie & Tae will release “Sierra” as their next single.

Throwback Thursday Song

Wade Bowen’s “One Step Closer.” I’ve mentioned a few times on this site about how highly I think of Bowen’s album Lost Hotel. This breakup song from the 2006 album is one his best songs, in my opinion. A great example of country music being modern without compromising the genre’s roots.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Fort Frances – Alio. Fort Frances is a Chicago-based indie rock band. There’s a hint of Americana roots in their sound and style, but Alio carries a dynamic rock sound throughout the album. The band has a big following in Lithuania, and are looking to expand their fandom with the new album. In Lithuanian, “alio” means “hello.” It’s a well produced album and quite honestly one of my favorite non-country albums I’ve heard so far this year.

Tweet of the Week

In the wake of the world learning of Prince’s death, a generic country account tweets lyrics to a Sam Hunt song. That deserves a bit more criticism, but Wheeler Walker Jr. did pretty well here.

iTunes Review of the Week

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 8.39.28 PM

A simple, yet effective review of Dallas Davidson’s new single “Laid Back.” Yes, the notorious bro-country songwriter has a country-rap single that includes vocals from Maggie Rose, Big Boi, and Mannie Fresh. Take this reviewer’s advice and don’t listen to it. Just say no.

 

15 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Zac Brown Band and ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ One Year Later

  1. Ron April 28, 2016 / 11:30 am

    FGL initially passed on H.O.L.Y. so I’m guessing it must be pretty good?

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  2. southtexaspistolero April 28, 2016 / 11:45 am

    If you are frustrated by the state of music today, go make better music on your own OR listen to the great music from the past 600 years.

    Pardonnez mon français, but I am fucking sick and tired of these arguments. For one, I have a wife and kids. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t just drop everything and move to Nashville or Austin and make a go of it. I’ve been told I sing really well, but I can’t play guitar or write songs, so I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t last long. Plus my hair is greying and I have a bad leg, so there goes the visual thing.

    For another thing, why should we have to listen to just old music? What’s wrong with wanting good new music? People talk about how music has to evolve or die, but what the hell’s the point if it “evolves” into something its longtime audience has no interest in listening to? Jesus fuck Clay Cook is a dumbass.

    I would guess that between this and Zac Brown’s previous comments about country music being “predictable,” there’s not gonna be any going back for the ZBB to what they made themselves known for. Which is fine, if that’s what they want to do, but I’ve said it before and will say it again: I’d have had more respect for Zac Brown and his compadres if they were spreading their musical horizons via more Black Sabbath covers with Dave Grohl instead of some bastardized EDM nonsense.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amanda April 28, 2016 / 11:46 am

    So glad that Maddie and Tae are releasing Sierra as a single. I love that song! 🙂

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    • lorenzofloris96 April 28, 2016 / 3:02 pm

      I love Sierra but I think its release at this point is the stupidest thing they could ever do in their career. Sierra’s lyrical approach is similar to the one they used with Shut Up and Fish, except Shut Up and Fish was way stronger (both lyrically and melodycally). Apparently their humor and wit is not working with those bastards at radio, I think they should’ve tried to showcase a different side of their personality. For example, “No Place Like You” would’ve been a perfect summer single and they have never released a song about love. Even “After The Storm Blows Through’ would’ve been a better choice. And even though Sierra is an excellent song, it is a very, very weak single and it will bomb so hard.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Becca April 28, 2016 / 7:57 pm

        I was really hoping for “Smoke” – that song is gorgeous and I thought maybe they’d pick a slower song. I thought “Sierra” should’ve been released during the summer their debut album was released.

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  4. OlaR April 28, 2016 / 2:06 pm

    I pay for good music. Old & new music.
    I never bought a ZBB tune. A song with “Avicii”. “Junkyard” was released to other formats. “Beautiful Drug” to country radio. Throwing as many songs as possible against the wall to see what sticks.
    What’s next for the ZBB? A dance album or modern rock? I’m listening to the “Sellout Song” right now.

    Check-Out/New Artist: Mathew Ewing (Album: I Can’t Keep My Eyes Off Of You/No Label)
    Mathew Ewing was born in Louisiana. The album with 10 tracks was released a month ago. It’s modern country/country-pop done the right way. Uptempo cuts like “Better Version Of Me”, ballads like “Here In Louisiana” & a classic like “Statue Of A Fool”. “Summer I’ll Always Remember” & “Little Bit” are perfect for country radio. 8/10.

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    • Derek Hudgin April 28, 2016 / 3:01 pm

      I wouldn’t mind a whole rock album from ZBB. I love the Grohl Sessions EP, and I think “Heavy is the Head” is a good rock song. I prefer the earlier cuts of “Junkyard” found on Homegrown or Pass the Jar as opposed to J+H’s remixed version. But all in all, I think Zac Brown Band could be just as good a rock band as they are a country band (when they play actual country songs).

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      • OlaR April 28, 2016 / 5:38 pm

        A rock album might work. But jumping from format to format? And after a flop, the ZBB will crawl back to Nashville, because country fans will “forgive” the Zac Brown Band.

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        • Roland May 2, 2016 / 9:37 am

          Hi Derek. When are you guys writing the article. ” bro-country and the Georgia connection. With the main players being Dallas Davidson,Jason Aldean,Luke Bryan,Rhet Atkins and his son Thomas,Cole Swindel et al.

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        • Roland May 2, 2016 / 9:42 am

          Bro-country and the Georgia connection. I forgot to mention Tyler Hubbard of FG . Remember Atlanta is now the bedrock of hiphop and rnb.

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  5. Nadia Lockheart April 28, 2016 / 10:49 pm

    I don’t think “JEKYLL + HYDE” is a bad album, per se. It just sounds more like a Zac Brown solo project than an authentic group effort, much like “Everyday” sounded more like a Dave Matthews solo album than an honest-to-God Dave Matthews Band album.

    Honestly, aside from their cover of “Dress Blues” and “Bittersweet”, the pair of heavy rock tracks on the album (“Heavy Is The Head”, “Junkyard”) are better than any of the other tracks on the album supposed to be the country offerings. Lyrically, they’re damn solid and potent and I actually hope they continue to try and tap into that stylistic vein more because they’re great at heavier material.

    It’s the electronic experiments that falter the most. And here’s the thing: I have absolutely nothing against Zac Brown experimenting with EDM on his own dime. I actually thought his collaboration with Avicii, “Broken Arrows”, is a lot better than either of the EDM-influenced songs on “JEKYLL + HYDE” because the lyrics and overall presentation actually convey heart and emotion. With “Beautiful Drug”, on the other hand………………it’s just a forgettable, half-assed and clumsily-written attempt at a club song when other EDM acts had already produced hits that have far more emotional appeal and teeth like “Don’t You Worry Child” and “Wake Me Up”.

    Also, the duet with Sara Barieilles (“Mango Tree”) just sounds completely out of place in the track listing. It just doesn’t fit the album and is emblematic of how “JEKYLL + HYDE” is their first release that feels more like a disjointed collection of songs instead of a cohesive album.

    So…………………”JEKYLL + HYDE” isn’t a bad album on its own merit, but it has no idea what it wants to be and I think will ultimately be looked back upon as a considerable misstep in terms of not just artistic development and legacy, but commercial viability as well. Zac Brown said in his own words that the goal for “JEKYLL + HYDE” was to “get more market”. Thus, bigger commercial returns. But even on that front, this is their weakest-selling album to date so clearly even from a strictly and blatantly corporate standpoint, Big Machine has to be thinking: “Hey, it seemed you were profiting more when you were, dare I say it, focusing squarely on country music!”

    *

    I am absolutely delighted Maddie & Tae are releasing “Sierra”.

    However, I think it’s simply a case of too little, too late for them.

    Big Machine has royally screwed this duo over with regards to single selection and the album’s rollout. Not having the album ready for release by the time “Girl In A Country Song” peaked was embarrassing enough. Then releasing “Fly” as the second single was a critical mistake that has damaged their commercial movement since (some of you will inevitably point out it went Top Ten and thus wasn’t a mistake, but I’d argue it was because it was clearly struggling and plodding along for several months prior to peaking while the sales were abysmal).

    “Shut Up And Fish” was a correct call, but it should have been released second. By the time “Fly” dampened excitement for the album, they basically lost of the momentum they gained with their debut single. And it’s hard to see Maddie & Tae bouncing back this album cycle at least. =(

    Liked by 1 person

    • OlaR April 29, 2016 / 7:55 am

      I like “Sierra”. But it’s the fourth single & the “Girl In A Country Song” buzz is over. The “Start Here” album is done (close to 95.000 sold copies, according to Roughstock).
      Big Machine Label Group: too many labels, too many artists & a little bit of everything to cover all fan groups.

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  6. Becca April 29, 2016 / 7:02 pm

    Whatever happened to Danielle Bradbery? I know “Friend Zone” was a disaster that (fortunately) didn’t go anywhere, but she has like 30+ cowrites registered under her name now and the other originals that she’s been performing are actually not bad at all. (I can see “Room for Two” as a nice single) Did Big Machine forget about her?

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    • OlaR April 30, 2016 / 11:43 am

      “Friend Zone” was a disaster. No airplay & the track sold 20.000 + copies (according to Roughstock).
      It was the best to put her on the sideline. The Band Perry was dropped/released/whatever, Danielle Bradbery is still listed as a Big Machine-artist.
      Right now Big Machine is promoting the new Jennifer Nettles single/album & there is Martina McBride (Nash Icon). Let’s not forget Tara Thompson, Ashley Campbell, the American Idol guy, Breaking Southwest, Tucker Beathard…

      Like

    • Raymond April 30, 2016 / 7:24 pm

      Big Machine has a lot on their tabel when it come to promoting songs, let’s see. Jennifer Nettles, Tim McGraw, Maddie & Tae are about to release “Sierra”, Thomas Rhett, Cassadee Pope (her label and Chris Young’s label are both promoting “Think Of You” and Cassadee Pope will have a new song out in May sometime), Tara Thompson, Justin Moore, Martina McBride, FGL, A Thousand Horses, and Brett Young. That’s a lot of artists and I don’t know if they have room yet to promote a Danielle Bradbery song since she has no momentum. She will more than likely stay with Big Machine but I’m not expecting a new song from her til that list clears up a little. Maybe songs from Tara Thompson, A Thousand Horses and Martina McBride can give up to give room so Danielle can release a new song. She’s been in the studio a lot according to her Twitter page. So I think it’s a matter of just trying to find the right opportunity to release a new song. Hopefully it’s something uptempo like “Young In America” and not “Friend Zone”. I am excited as I do think Danielle Bradbery has a beautiful voice and I want that sophomore album.

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