Review – Zac Brown Band’s “Homegrown”

Homegrown

If there’s one artist in mainstream country you can always rely on to produce great music, it’s the Zac Brown Band. While many artists are busy selling out to appeal to whatever is popular in country music at the moment, this group continues to put out music they want to make. Not only is it music they want to make, but the kind of music many traditional country music fans want to hear.

It’s been a couple of years since Zac Brown Band has released a full album, as they only released an EP last year. It was an important one, as they collaborated with former Nirvana member and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl. The EP combined both their sounds to produce a solid collection of rock country. Many wondered how this would affect the group’s sound moving forward. Now we find out with Zac Brown Band’s new single “Homegrown.”

The song starts off with the sound of a fiddle and electric guitar; it eventually leads into some acoustic guitar play before going back to fiddle and electric guitar in the chorus. It’s definitely an interesting and ear-catching sound. You can hear Grohl’s influence on this song without a doubt. I think it’s a great sound that strikes a perfect balance between sounding traditional and modern. This is a song that can appeal to both traditional and mainstream fans. I also have to say I love how this song ends with a punch and really leaves the listener with a good impression. Zac Brown Band always has great instrumentation and this song is no exception.

As for the theme, “Homegrown” is about home and the simple things about it that make it great. Now normally these type of songs in mainstream country are littered with clichés and overused tropes. I think this song does a great job of mostly avoiding these pitfalls (notice how Brown says woman in the chorus and not girl). It doesn’t feel corporate produced either, but rather folksy and down-to-earth. There is no name-dropping of alcohol brands nor trucks. This is a feel-good song that anybody of any age can listen to while driving down the road. Sure I think the songwriting could be slightly better, but I don’t have any major qualms.

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.

I definitely recommend buying and listening to “Homegrown.” This is a home run for both Zac Brown Band and country music fans.

Grade: 8.5/10

Country Perspective’s Best Country Group of 2014 Nominees

Country Perspective has many year-end awards: Best Album, Worst Album, Best Male Artist, Best Female Artist, Best Song, Worst Song and this award Best Group. Each are challenging in their own right, but this award is arguably the toughest to determine. Four of the five nominees albums are up for Country Perspective’s Best Country Album of the Year. That’s insane! These groups are all fantastic regardless of what group ultimately wins and you should check out all of their music.

Derek and myself will ultimately determine who wins, but you the readers will also have a big say on who wins too. Your feedback and opinions in the comments below can and probably will sway who wins. So be sure to sound off on who you think deserves to win. Let’s take a look at the nominees for Country Perspective’s Best Country Group of 2014.

First Aid Kit – These Swedish sisters sing music that is wise beyond their years. Johanna and Klara Söderberg thrill with their haunting album Stay Gold. The album also makes you laugh, cry and reflect. It’s an emotional roller coaster that flows perfectly together. They also did a fantastic job covering Paul Simon’s “America.” Speaking of America, more people in this country need to hear this duo. First Aid Kit is also up for Country Perspective’s Best Country Album of 2014 and Best Country Song of 2014 (“Cedar Lane”).

 

Old Crow Medicine Show – If there’s one group you can consistently rely on to produce great music, this is the group. Old Crow Medicine Show hasn’t missed a beat since Willie Watson left the group to pursue a solo career and their album was great enough to be nominated for Country Perspective’s Best Country Album of 2014. Their emotional song “Dearly Departed Friend” was also nominated for Country Perspective’s Best Country Song of 2014. You know what else is great about this group? You can tell how much they enjoy making music.

 

Shovels & Rope – I’ll be honest with you: I never heard of this duo before this year. I heard a lot of praise for their new album Swimmin’ Time from people I respect in country music, so I gave it a listen. I’m sorry I wasn’t aware of this dynamic duo sooner. Husband and wife Michael Trent and Carry Ann Hearst combine for some of the best harmonies I’ve ever heard. Their chemistry and attention to detail make for one of the best albums of the year. They’re also up for Country Perspective’s Best Country Song of 2014 with “Coping Mechanism.”

 

The Secret Sisters – They quietly released one of the best country albums of 2014 with their album Put Your Needle Down. Really I was surprised by how little talk there was of this great album. Under the guidance of T Bone Burnett the duo delivered a deeply harmonic album. Derek did a great job reviewing this album and this snippet at the end of it I think sums up this group and their 2014 best:

This album is a musical time machine, taking it right into the center of each era of great music and The Secret Sisters flawlessly execute every song, delivering a quality that could stand up with each genre’s best. This is no sophomore slump. Laura and Lydia prove their songwriting prowess and establish themselves a strong base on which to build a strong, promising musical future.

 

Zac Brown Band – The best group in mainstream country music didn’t even release a new album this year and yet they did enough to be nominated for group of the year. What qualified them in our minds to be nominated for this award? Well first they released a great EP in The Grohl Sessions Vol. 1, which produced the great single “All Alright.” They also collaborated with several artists (Allman Brothers, Elton John, Foo Fighters, Doobie Brothers) to make great music and admirably cover classic hits. Another thing that made me respect this group even more was Brown picking Sturgill Simpson to open for him on select tour dates. This group simply respects country music and it shows through their music and actions.

 

Who should win Country Perspective’s Best Group of 2014 award? Let us know in the comments below.

Ranking Mainstream Country Music Artists: Grade A

If you look at mainstream country artists from the perspective of mainstream country music news outlets, every artist is great in their own way. None of them can do no wrong and it’s just like watching a giant ass kissing convention. If you look at mainstream country artists from the Country Perspective, not every artist is great. There are some good artists, some average ones and some really bad artists that should never make any kind of music. In other words we tell it like it is and deliver you honesty. To me it’s not a very difficult thing to do. I never hesitate nor does Derek when writing reviews to say what is exactly on our minds. So today I thought it would be a good time to start sorting out the good and bad artists in mainstream country music in case you’re an independent country music fan who has thoughts about checking out mainstream country music or you’re just getting into country music period.

Keep in mind these rankings were entirely compiled by yours truly. It’s only my opinion. The only artists I’m considering in these rankings is mainstream country artists that are on major labels and/or still get radio time. I’m also including legends and acts that are too big to be considered independent artists. The way I determine these rankings is by looking at the overall body of work of the artist, as well as taking into account the most recent offerings from them. So bro country artists that have been churning out hit after hit will be lower on the list. If an artist made bad music in the past, but is now putting out better music lately that will help them. But that bad music won’t be forgotten either. One more thing: attitude and respect for the genre will be considered. The rankings will be determined by grade. First we’ll take a look at who I consider the best of the genre.

Grade A

The best of the best in mainstream only make grade A. These artists have consistently churned out great country music over their careers. Their work has benefitted the genre and really saved it some face in recent years. They’re the most country ones left and each of them have a place in my music library. These artists also approach their music and the genre with respect to the roots of it and it’s storied history. Some of them are the biggest names ever in country music. Speaking of that…

WillieWillie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Billy Joe Shaver, Dolly Parton, George Strait, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Alison Krauss, Reba – The legends of country music that are still making great music after all of these years. They’re icons that have done more than enough to be considered grade A for the rest of their careers. Cherish their music as much as you can. Any country fan worth a lick knows these artists, so there’s no need for me to explain why each are legends.

Kacey Musgraves – The current queen of country music. She’s racked up Grammys, CMA awards, ACM awards and other numerous accolades in a short amount of time. You may not agree with her messages in some of her songs, but you can’t deny she’s talented and most importantly respects the roots of the genre. Musgraves has only released one album so far and she’s already playing alongside the likes of a legend like Willie Nelson and a pop icon like Katy Perry. I believe we haven’t even seen the best from Musgraves yet either. I expect her to improve with each album and be a staple of country music for years to come.

Zac_Brown_USO_tour

Zac Brown Band – Country music purists will immediately cry foul, but to them I say blow it out your ass. “But what about “Chicken Fried” and those beach songs, Josh? You’re just going to forget them?” This argument is so damn old and I won’t stand for it anymore. I’ve listened to every single album that the band has released and I can tell you the majority of their music is not beach related. They have some damn fine album cuts. I’m guessing the people who are beating the dead horse with the island songs have only listened to his radio stuff. Even by just looking at his radio singles, only 2 of their 11 singles in the last five years are island/beach songs. Those songs aren’t terrible either. If Alan Jackson, Dave Grohl, Vince Gill, The Allman Brothers, The Doobie Brothers and Elton John are willing to make music with him, you should respect him. Also never forget this quote.

Dierks Bentley – Despite a few duds over the years, *cough* “Drunk on a Plane” *cough* Bentley has produced some of the best albums and radio singles in country music. His new album Riser is arguably the best mainstream country album of 2014. He also produced a fantastic bluegrass album a few years ago. Just remember when he’s singing a dud on radio or an awards show that he’s only playing the game so he can make great music for the rest of his albums.

Ashley Monroe & Angaleena Presley – Since the Pistol Annies aren’t a full-time group, I decided to rank the trio individually. These two are just beginning their solo careers and have only released one album each. Both albums were pretty damn good. It’s only the beginning for these two and I can’t wait to hear more.

The Mavericks – These guys aren’t mainstream, but they are signed to Valory Music Group, an imprint of Big Machine Records. There’s a reason Scott Borchetta is a wealthy man. He wisely saw money in this talented group and although they will never be on radio again, they can make whatever music they want. This is great news for country music fans. Their 2013 comeback album In Time was one of the best of that year. They’re releasing a new album in February 2015. Be sure to mark it on your calendar.

Lee Ann Womack – She is signed to independent label Sugar Hill Records, but with NASH Icon stations popping up and playing music from her great new album, I consider her mainstream enough for these rankings. Other than her big hit “I Hope You Dance,” Womack has been underrated her entire career. She’s not only put out good music, but a variety of good music from contemporary to gospel to traditional.

Gary Allan

Gary Allan & Josh Turner – Two under-heralded artists who fly under the radar and consistently put out solid country albums. Mainstream country fans will never fully appreciate them, but there are plenty of traditional country fans who do. Turner had been on hiatus recently, but he’s releasing a new album in 2015. Allan hasn’t released an album since 2013, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t release a new album next year too.

Jamey Johnson – “What happened to Jamey Johnson?” I see this in every single comments section on iTunes where someone is complaining about the newest pile of crap from a bro country artist. Well to those people: I didn’t know either until recently. Thanks to some digging by Trigger at Saving Country Music, he found out Johnson was having troubles with his publisher. Then out of nowhere Johnson put a giant banner across his newly designed site that says “New Music Coming Soon.” So we continue to wait and see. Maybe 2015 will be the long-awaited return of Jamey Johnson to country music. 

Brandy Clark – I can’t believe I almost forgot Clark! Thanks to reader Noah for pointing this out! Since she was nominated for 2014 CMA New Artist of the Year Award, that’s enough qualification for her to be considered mainstream. She’s not only penned numerous great hits for the likes of Kacey Musgraves, but her debut album last year was a solid listen.

That’s all for part one! Check back soon for part two of my rankings!

Review – Zac Brown Band’s “All Alright”

In mainstream country music, most artists are just trying to keep up with the popular sound. They really have no thoughts or heart behind their music. To take a line from the famous song, “Murder on Music Row,” it’s all done for “the almighty dollar and the lust for worldwide fame.” Now all of us have to make a living, but we like to take pride in our work. Most mainstream country artists don’t really convey this and their music sounds soulless as a result. But there are exceptions to the rule and the Zac Brown Band is definitely one of them. While their music can sound more like southern fried rock at times, one thing that is present in all of their songs is a sense of genuineness. These guys take pride in their music and care about the image they portray. You’ll never hear these guys using auto-tune and EDM in their music. As they’ve stated in numerous interviews, they’re proud to use real instruments in their songs.

When I found out they were releasing new music from their project with Dave Grohl, I was excited to hear what they came up with. For those that don’t know, Dave Grohl is the frontman and founder of the rock band The Foo Fighters. He was also part of a little band you might have heard of called Nirvana. Grohl has a brilliant mind for music and I was anxious to hear how his sound and Zac Brown Band’s sound would mesh together. If you’ve listened to The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1 EP, you can definitely hear the influence of Grohl. And it couldn’t be more present in the lead single on the extended play, “All Alright.”

Grohl starts the song off with a small guitar solo that sets the tone for the song. His guitar licks are fantastic. It then blends in with the rest of the band seamlessly as Brown begins to sing. The story of this song is quite simple. It’s about a guy being in what looked like a good relationship where everything was “all alright,” but then went “all wrong” and is now trying to move on from it. Brown’s voice is flawless as always and the background vocals accompany it nicely. The song is good until about halfway through, where it then goes about a few notches and becomes even better. Grohl busts into an over 30 second long guitar solo, that upon first time listening to it, will absolutely blow you away. I wasn’t that surprised something this good was coming from a musician of Grohl’s caliber. After the solo, the song goes softer and Brown reflects on the cold pillow by the empty night stand (great imagery). But then he sings, “I guess God did not make me a one woman man.” The song then goes louder again and repeats the chorus lines. Brown ends with the great line of, “That’s just how it goes when you’re gone.”

“All Alright” undeniably has a rock influence throughout it (even more than usual for Zac Brown Band). While a select few may not like this for some reason, I think many will appreciate the influence as it is different from other offerings from the band. This is actually a good way to evolve country music, unlike some artists who feel EDM and rapping are a better direction to take country. I honestly don’t understand why more artists don’t try to incorporate more rock influences in their songs if they’re looking for an “evolved sound.” The instruments are implemented well in the song and Grohl is Grohl on the guitar. Lyrically, the song is simple and written well. It’s almost too simple, but Brown finds the perfect balance. The pacing was spot on and did a good job of creating the imagery of the song.

This song will get radio time because Zac Brown Band has a large and dedicated fan base that will tune in to listen. It probably won’t chart too high, as it has only peaked at #44 on Billboard’s U.S. Hot Country Songs chart. It’s hard for the song to cut through the throng of bro country songs infecting the charts (and radio waves).

“All Alright” is one of the best mainstream country songs of 2014 and I’ve already bought it and listened to it several times over. It’s one of the few bright spots on country music radio at the moment. I’m hoping this is just the first great song we hear from the Grohl collaboration and that there are more released later this year.

Grade: 8.5/10