Album Review — Zac Brown Band’s ‘The Owl’

(Warning: Long review! I don’t like writing them, but this is what happens when this band releases divisive music because I did the same thing two albums ago for this group.)

It’s confounding to many what Zac Brown Band have become. But I actually don’t think the band has changed and I’ll explain throughout this review. I think one big problem this band is running into is they continue to label their albums as country and send singles to country radio, yet in interviews they (and by they, it’s really Zac Brown) say they don’t limit themselves to one genre. Do they not understand how this confuses people? You can’t have your cake and eat it too. People don’t like to be bullshitted and they just want it given to them straight (see Sturgill Simpson on his new album, yet for some reason Billboard still put him on the country albums chart). Instead this band didn’t give it to fans straight and now they’re pissed. As a result this album is being put through the ringer and it’s justified for the band’s confusing signals, but at the same time the most egregious moments on the album are overshadowing what I believe to be some promising signs.

Sorry for this little rant, but it had to be said before I could finally talk about the music on this band’s new album The Owl.

Opening track “The Woods” is pretty fun and upbeat, making it a good choice for an opening track. It’s basically about doing your own thing and acknowledging that we all have different things that make us tick. This is a great song and approach for a band that wants to bend genres and do something different. I think even if you don’t like this song, you can at least respect the sentiment. “Need This” is supposed to be an island getaway song, but I have to tell you I’m not feeling the tropical, beach vibes on this. And when I think of a song like this, I think of a more relaxing tone and not the frenetic sound of this song. It’s just really odd and off-putting considering the theme.

Then we get to “OMW,” which is super catchy. And in this case, it’s not good. It’s not good at all. Because then you get this annoying song about getting a text saying OMW from a significant other stuck in your head. It’s one of the worst ear worms I’ve ever had stuck in my head because the lyrics are so vapid, dumb and not fun. So naturally this will end up a single. “Someone I Used To Know” is one of the better songs on the album, as it’s about someone looking back on their former selves and letting go of it for the person they are now. It’s a great song about growing as a person and one of the few moments on the album where the lyrics go beyond a base level. The sound is even fun and has flashes of country.

The most fun track on the album though is “Me and the Boys in the Band.” That’s because this track plays into this band’s strength of jam band, roots influenced rock with fun, singalong lyrics. The fiddle play of Jimmy de Martini can actually be heard, which has felt missing in this band’s music. You can also hear the band in Zac Brown Band on this song, which is no surprise as it’s one of the few songs on this album that doesn’t have outside writers that Brown brought in (this one is written by Brown, Clay Cook and Luke Laird). If you look at the songwriters on each song of this album, it’s quite telling of how each song turned out.

“Finish What We Started” is about a couple trying to reconcile and keep their relationship intact. Brandi Carlile sounds great as usual as the guest artist on this song, but the song itself doesn’t really do much for me. It lacks the heart and passion needed to really get the lyrics across, which I put on a weak vocal performance from Brown. This was a decent song that could have been great.

“God Given” is…I’m not quite sure how to best describe it. Basically I imagine Zac Brown (this has his finger prints all over it and I refuse to believe this was the band’s idea) was listening to the Rap Caviar playlist on Spotify one day and he thought to himself, “I could do something like this.” But he never thought if he should do it. You’re not a rapper! And hearing Zac Brown sing about Gucci bags and Vera whips is one of the most awkward and clumsy things you’ll hear this year. The lyrics aren’t even bad, but they fit someone like Bruno Mars or Justin Timberlake, not Zac Brown Band. Give this song to Timberlake and it would sound great. This song is the equivalent of someone knowingly putting on leather pants that are five sizes too small and then walking around like everything is fine. It’s not fine, it’s weird and we all feel second-hand embarrassment.

“Warrior” is about the strength and resiliency of people who serve in the armed forces and the struggles they deal with. On an album with multiple bad lyrical moments, this is certainly not one of them and I applaud the songwriters for actually crafting a great song about an important issue around soldiers that isn’t full of the usual clichés you hear in patriotic songs. “Shoofly Pie” has a roots-y and funky sound that I enjoy, similar in the vein of “Me and the Boys in the Band,” as it fits this band really well. The lyrics are fine (they don’t employ a sexual euphemism in a tacky or sophomoric way), but the hook gets repetitive so quickly. This song could have easily been like a minute shorter. “Already On Fire” is another track where I really enjoy the sound. It’s more on the rock side, which this band has demonstrated many times they’re great at, but for some reason they refuse to make a full-blown rock album. The lyrical imagery fits the sound well too, as it gives the song a sinister mood I enjoy.

Closing song “Leaving Love Behind” is the classic sound and song many grew accustom to with this group. It’s about looking back at a relationship that’s ended and trying to let go of the love that was once shared. I imagine Brown drew from his separation from his wife for this song, as you can feel the emotion from the opening note. Most importantly this song feels like the group made it and not Zac Brown with a bunch of outside writers and producers. It proves my point too about the songwriters, as this was written by Brown, Cook, Coy Bowles, de Martini, and Tim and Phil Hanseroth. This song shows this band can still be brilliant when they choose to be.

While many have taken their shots at this album and have come away from it more concerned for the Zac Brown Band than ever before, I actually take away from The Owl that this band is still great. The problem is not the band in Zac Brown Band, but Zac Brown himself. If you remove the three worst songs on this album, the remaining songs are overall pretty good. But the three worst songs are so bad that for many it just completely dominates the rest of The Owl. And it’s clear that the worst moments on this album are of Brown’s doing (see that terrible solo pop album he released as further proof). When Zac Brown Band is allowed to be a tight and cohesive band for a full album, they’re great. But does Zac Brown really want to be in a band anymore? Or is he more interested in his own vanity projects and ideas?

Grade: 6/10

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.

 

Jekyll + Hyde: How One Album Turned Zac Brown Band From Heroes to Villains

Zac_Brown_USO_tour

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” This is the famous quote uttered by Batman in the Dark Knight. It’s a quote people have used in situations hundreds of times and it’s a quote I feel applies to the current situation with Zac Brown Band, or more candidly frontman Zac Brown. He was once a beacon of hope for country music and someone we could count on to uphold the values and roots of the genre. It showed in his music and in his interviews. He practiced what he preached. Then everything changed. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s start from the beginning.

Zac Brown Band burst onto the country music scene in 2008 with their lead single “Chicken Fried,” a number one hit and double platinum single. It launched their careers and they’ve been an impactful force on the genre ever since, racking up ten more #1 hits on country radio. Now this first single was certainly not indicative of their full talent and they proved that with pretty much every single that followed it. Many consider “Chicken Fried” the worst single they have ever released, but it was excused because it was a foot in the door for them. Without this mega hit, we may have never gotten so many other great songs from them like the Grammy-winning collaboration with Alan Jackson, “As She’s Walking Away.” We wouldn’t have gotten what I consider one of the best country albums in the last decade, their 2012 album Uncaged.

Needless to say, any fair critic would say Zac Brown Band have produced their fair share of quality music. Not only that, but quality music that gets played on country radio. So up until this year, you could certainly call the majority of the music Zac Brown Band produced to be of high quality and something that respects the true intentions of country music. Zac Brown Band has certainly pointed out how they’re not strictly country, as they’re more in the vein of southern rock and country music has always accepted them. This is a fair and honest assessment. Speaking of fair and honest assessments, Zac Brown gave one in August of 2013. He was asked about what he thought of Luke Bryan’s newest mega-hit “That’s My Kind of Night” and the bro-country movement. Here’s a refresher on what he said (emphasis mine):

“There’s not a lot of the country format that I really enjoy listening to. If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, daisy duke song, I wanna throw up. There’s songs out there on the radio right now that make me ashamed to be even in the same format as some other artist.

“I love Luke Bryan and he’s had some great songs, but this new song is the worst song I’ve ever heard.”

“I see it being giant commercially, successful within what is called country music these days, but I also feel like that the people deserve something better than that.”

“I’m opinionated because I care so much about the music and the songs.”

This is was like heaven to the ears of disenfranchised country music fans everywhere who had grown disgusted and ashamed of the genre’s new direction. Finally, here was a mainstream artist standing up for them and being their voice of reason. This was an artist you could get behind and expect people to listen to them when they speak. Zac Brown Band was a group that made quality music and provided leadership to a genre that needed it. The criticism of course fell on deaf ears, but it was the attempt that meant so much.

That was the Zac Brown Band and Zac Brown of old times. Now let’s talk about the current Zac Brown Band and Zac Brown. The new Zac Brown Band began in the fall of 2014, when they announced they formed a strategic partnership with Big Machine Records, Republic Records and John Varvatos Records. Derek wrote an excellent piece breaking the deal down. It’s definitely worth a read if you haven’t read up on the details of it. At the time, I agreed with Derek that this would be a good deal for Zac Brown Band and didn’t necessarily mean they were selling out to Scott Borchetta, although Derek rightly pointed it out as something to keep an eye on (emphasis again, mine):

Admittedly, there is one aspect to be weary of with this partnership. Much like how we may see writers from Southern Ground getting songs cut by Republic and Big Machine artists, we may also see writers from those two labels getting songs cut by Southern Ground Artists. Scott Borchetta has a lot of power in country music. While I don’t think he’ll have the same level of control over Southern Ground Artists like he does his own, it’s possible he may find ways to influence Zac or other Southern Ground groups to record a Republic or Big Machine written song or two for future albums. And recently there has been some questionable songs coming out of these two labels, think “God Made Girls,” “Lookin’ For That Girl,” or “This is How We Roll.” Now, I have faith that Zac Brown won’t compromise his vision for the band or his label by recording songs like that, but it’s one thing to keep an eye on.

Derek expressed a faith in Zac Brown and the Zac Brown Band the majority of us felt at the time. There was no way he would let this new business situation affect the quality of their music. There was a proven track record to back this faith up. But it was really the first sign that change was coming to Zac Brown Band. We just didn’t want to see it. Another hint that things were about to change was a quote in an interview with Rolling Stone. Brown said this in the interview in November 2014:

Brown points to one new song titled “Beautiful Drug” as a step in this new direction. “Believe it or not, it’s about a girl,” says Brown. “But she’s the guy’s beautiful drug. I think that’ll be a big crossover tune for us.”

The words, “big crossover tune,” should have set off the alarm bells in our heads. But once again we reminded ourselves that Zac Brown Band are the “good guys” and we should have faith in them. A few months later this faith seemed to be confirmed, as they released the first single from the album, “Homegrown.” From my review:

I think this is a great choice of the first single from Zac Brown Band’s new album. It’s fun and vibrant, yet has a great sound (it sounds like it belongs in country music) and solid lyrics. “Homegrown” should get a lot of radio play and do well on the charts. I’ll be shocked if this isn’t a #1 hit. People in the industry love to talk about evolving the sound of country music with the incorporation of rap remixes and EDM elements, when really it’s just devolving it. If you want a true example of evolving country music, “Homegrown” is a perfect example. Incorporating rock elements into country music works well as long as it’s balanced and clearly Zac Brown Band know how to balance it.

This is kind of scary to read in hindsight, no? Not long after this it was confirmed that Zac Brown Band would be cutting “Dress Blues,” a Jason Isbell-penned song on their new album. And they performed it on national television. This was unbelievable. They released a quality single to country radio and cut a song from one of the most respected and beloved Americana artists in the country on their new album. This was like a love letter to the disenfranchised country music fan. This caused the hype for their new album Jekyll + Hyde to really go through the roof. Many people in the industry and country fans I knew were pre-ordering this album without hesitation, including yours truly.

ZBB Jekyll + Hyde

Then Jekyll + Hyde finally arrived to our mailboxes and we ripped off the plastic wrap as quick as we could for an album we all anticipated to be great. The first track on the album? The song Zac Brown predicted to be a crossover hit, “Beautiful Drug.” And then it happened. The moment Zac Brown Band took the metaphorical knife and stabbed it in our backs. Of course we didn’t recognize it yet, as the faith was still there, despite it being reduced. My ears didn’t know what to think. The rest of the album was rocky too. It took several listens for the anger and realization to sit in: Zac Brown Band cut an EDM song and blatantly led the album off with it. Betrayal and disappointment immediately came to mind. There were good songs on the album of course, but there were so many bad songs too. I ultimately deemed Jekyll + Hyde a mixed bag with no direction.

There was a lot of backlash online against these EDM songs, but eventually it died down. The reason? We all convinced ourselves that they wouldn’t release them as singles. Zac Brown and the group surely would see the criticism and choose to ultimately keep it away from country radio. After all they care about the music, as they feel the people deserve better. They ended up releasing “Loving You Easy” as the second single of the album, a Motown influenced song. While not one of the best songs on the album, it was a decent enough song and the band actually pulled off a Motown country song well, much better than Thomas Rhett. It’s not a terrible song and one of the better ones on country radio, which really isn’t saying much, but the point stands. As this song continued to move up the charts in the past few weeks, speculation began on what their third single from the album would be. “One Day?” “Castaway?” Nope. It’s “Beautiful Drug.”

To add insult to injury, this quote was uttered by Zac Brown Band member Clay Cook in an interview with The Boston Globe:

“With ‘Jekyll + Hyde,’ we were really starting to think of how this would play in a show,” he explains. “We’re not really an album band. The album is basically a business card to get people to see us play live.”

And with that the turn of Zac Brown Band to the dark side was complete. It was this quote that finally drove the point home. The Zac Brown Band that said they cared about the music and the fans deserving better than the stuff on country radio was gone. The faith of the fans in the band doing the right thing for country music has evaporated. Zac Brown Band is no longer in it for the fans, but rather the money and the business only. Scott Borchetta’s influence is as plain as day. The yearning for fame and crossover success is evident and the appeal to serve the roots of the genre has disappeared. “Homegrown” and “Dress Blues” were simply ruses to get us all to buy the album and dump EDM songs onto us. It was bait-and-switch advertisement at it’s finest. How is it not? When you dangle these two songs in front of fans they expect the album to be in a similar vein. When you for year after year release music that upholds the integrity of the genre, people expect to hear the same again. When you publicly admonish the trends plaguing country radio and your promise to make better music, the fans expect something good. They don’t expect EDM music. Zac Brown Band could have been open and candid about this change of direction, but instead they wanted to get your money first before springing this surprise on us. This is the definition of a crook and someone who values money over honesty.

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Zac Brown Band chose not to fall on their sword, but instead surrender to the mainstream country agenda and laugh their way to the bank. They put their new suits on with a smile on their faces. While their wallets may have just gotten bigger, my respect for them had dwindled significantly. I no longer have faith in Zac Brown Band to do the right thing. They’ve now lived long enough to become the very thing they once spoke out against. Sure they can go back to their old sound on the next album, but they’re seemingly sterling track record and penchant for honesty through their music and words is damaged forever. This is a permanent scar on Zac Brown Band and possibly the sanctity of country music, something they may never live down again.

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